Did you know that age-related hearing impairment impacts roughly one in three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of them are over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of those who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69! At least 20 million people suffer from neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there may be numerous reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study revealed that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, let alone sought further treatment. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. Managing 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 indicates that treating hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature linking hearing loss to depression. They collected data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so drastically increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss worsens is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a considerable body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological link that exists between hearing loss and depression. In all likelihood, it’s social. People who have hearing loss will frequently avoid social interaction due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about standard everyday situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Several studies have revealed 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 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors did not identify 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 observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out 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 year after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Find out what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.
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