Are you aware that about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many people are affected 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 individuals dealing with neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or sought further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing 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 relating hearing loss to depression. They collected 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 adjusting 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 quieter than a whisper, roughly equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the chances of suffering from depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shock. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss worsens is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, expanding a substantial body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that found 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.
Here’s the good news: The connection that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s probably social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Numerous studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. 1.000 people in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t establish a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did show that those individuals were a lot more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss relieves depression is bolstered by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them showed substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. And even a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to go it alone. Find out what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. It could benefit more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.