Did you know that age-related hearing loss affects roughly one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are over 75)? But even though so many individuals are impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people dealing with untreated hearing loss, though 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 get older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some degree of hearing loss actually got tested or looked into further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. 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 manageable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research indicates that managing hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.
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 up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assessing them for symptoms of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, approximately on par with 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 drastically raise the probability of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a sizable body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
The good news: The connection that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s probably social. People with hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social interaction due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about normal everyday situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Several studies have found that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to decrease symptoms of depression. 1,000 individuals in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did reveal that those individuals were much more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the theory that treating hearing loss relieves depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to go it alone. Find out what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.