Are you aware that around one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing loss 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 those under 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people cope with 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 people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, never mind sought further treatment. For some people, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the situation now. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they collected 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 took into account a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, roughly equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so significantly raise the chance of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss worsens is revealed by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a substantial body of literature linking the two. In another study, a considerably higher risk of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
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 probably social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social situations or even everyday conversations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Numerous studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to decrease 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 reveal that those individuals were far more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after using hearing aids, reinforces the theory 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 discovered that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed 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 year after beginning 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. Get your hearing tested, and learn about your solutions. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.