Did you know that age-related hearing loss impacts roughly one in three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of them are older than 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops 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, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. One study revealed that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, let alone sought additional treatment. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of getting older. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health hazard linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assessing them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, roughly on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing creates such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shock. This new study expands the substantial existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that found both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher danger of depression.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a chemical or biological relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s probably social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even day to day conversations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 people in their 70s found that those who used hearing aids were considerably less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But the theory that treating hearing loss reduces depression is reinforced by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in depression symptoms and also cognitive function after using hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which demonstrated continuing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing reduced symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to go it alone. Learn what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.