Are you aware that around one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many people are impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on whose 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.
As people get older, there could be numerous reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study found that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, never mind sought additional treatment. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. Managing hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with improvements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so drastically increase the probability of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, expanding a substantial body of literature linking the two. In another study, a significantly higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a biological or chemical link that exists between hearing loss and depression. In all likelihood, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social interaction or even day to day conversations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Several studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to 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 cope with symptoms of depression, though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But the theory that treating hearing loss relieves depression is bolstered by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after getting 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 in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
It’s tough struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing examined, and know about your solutions. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.