Are you aware that around 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 individuals are impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people suffering from neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there could be a number of reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who confirmed some degree of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of getting older. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. That’s relevant because a growing body of research shows that managing hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. After correcting for a range of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, approximately on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
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 probability of suffering from depression. This new study expands the substantial existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which found that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: The connection that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. It’s likely social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social interaction or even everyday conversations. This can increase social separation, which further leads to even more feelings of depression and anxiety. 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. 1,000 people in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did demonstrate that those individuals were much more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help alleviate 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, all of them showed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single individual in the group continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. 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.
It’s difficult struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing checked, and know about your solutions. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.