Are you aware that about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss and half of them are older than 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for people younger than 69! At least 20 million people cope with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. One study found that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, let alone sought additional treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the process of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the documentation linking hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they gathered data from. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers found 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 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so drastically raise the probability of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss worsens is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a substantial body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported difficulty 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: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a biological or chemical link that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of 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 studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t define 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 far more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, all of them demonstrated substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated continuing 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 depression symptoms.
It’s tough coping with hearing loss but help is out there. Learn what your options are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall quality of life.