Are you aware that about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing loss and half of them are over 75? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those younger than 69! At least 20 million people suffer from untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they get older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of getting older. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case now. That’s relevant because a growing body of research indicates that treating hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation linking hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluating them for signs of depression. After correcting for a range of variables, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up 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 equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new study expands the substantial existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which revealed that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher danger of depression.
The good news: The relationship that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. In all likelihood, it’s social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social interaction or even day-to-day conversations. This can increase social separation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Numerous studies have found that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not looking at data over time.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, reinforces the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in depression symptoms and also mental 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 showed continuing 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 looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing fewer symptoms of depression.
It’s tough dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Learn what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.