Are you aware that about one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are over 75? But even though so many individuals 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, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there might be several reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study found that only 28% of people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, let alone sought additional treatment. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable condition. That’s relevant because a growing body of research indicates that managing hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they gathered data from. 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 quieter than a whisper, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing generates such a significant increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. 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 found both people who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a substantially higher danger of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s most likely social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. 1.000 people 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 far more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after using hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them showed significant 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 starting to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
It’s tough dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing checked, and learn about your options. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.