Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of them are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for people under the age of 69! Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. Only 28% of people who reported some degree of hearing loss actually got tested or looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many people just accept hearing loss as a normal part of getting older. Managing hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the case anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard associated with hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that connected hearing loss to depression. They collected data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for signs of depression. After correcting for a range of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, roughly equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so significantly increase the chance of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss worsens is revealed by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a substantial body of literature linking the two. In another study, a considerably higher risk of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s probably social. People who have hearing loss will often avoid social situations due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about typical day-to-day situations. This can increase social separation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Numerous studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 people in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, reinforces the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Only 34 people were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to go it alone. Find out what your options are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.