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 over 75? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of those who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for people under the age of 69! At least 20 million people cope with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. One study revealed that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, never mind sought additional treatment. For some people, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard associated with hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the documentation connecting hearing loss and depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for signs of depression. 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 for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, approximately on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic link 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, adding to a considerable body of literature linking the two. In another study, a considerably higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a chemical or biological connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. In all likelihood, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social interaction or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Several studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 people in their 70s found that those who used hearing aids were considerably less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, although the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not looking at data over time.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which demonstrated continuing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing reduced depression symptoms.
It’s tough struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your solutions. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.