Did you know that age-related hearing impairment impacts around one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are older than 75)? But even though so many individuals are impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people deal with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there may be a number of reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some degree of hearing loss actually got examined or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the process of aging. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the situation now. That’s relevant because a growing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They gathered 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. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the likelihood of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a range of variables. 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 little difference in hearing produces such a significant increase in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new study contributes to the substantial existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher danger of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social situations due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to several studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were considerably less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, although the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not viewing the data over time.
But other research, that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were assessed 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. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single person in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after beginning to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing less depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to go it alone. Find out what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.