Did you know that age-related hearing loss impacts roughly one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and around half of those are over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under 69!). Depending on whose data you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from neglected loss of hearing; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they overlook getting treatment for loss of hearing for a number of reasons. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing tested, though they reported suffering from loss of hearing, and the majority didn’t seek out additional treatment. For some folks, it’s like grey hair or wrinkles, just part of getting older. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial developments that have been accomplished in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a very manageable condition. Notably, more than just your hearing can be improved by treating loss of hearing, according to a growing body of data.
A recent study from a research group working from Columbia University, links loss of hearing and depression adding to the body of knowledge.
They give each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assess them for signs of depression. After a number of factors are taken into account, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically substantial signs of depression increased by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about as loud as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing creates such a significant boost in the odds of being affected by depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new study adds to the considerable established literature linking loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing got worse in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that revealed that both individuals who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have loss of hearing based on hearing tests had a considerably higher risk of depression.
The good news is: it isn’t a chemical or biological connection that researchers think exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Normal interactions and social situations are generally avoided due to anxiety over difficulty hearing. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a horrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily disrupted.
A wide variety of studies have found that dealing with loss of hearing, typically using hearing aids, can assist to alleviate symptoms of depression. 2014 research investigated data from over 1,000 people in their 70s revealing that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t examine the data over a period of time, they could not pinpoint a cause and effect connection.
Nonetheless, the concept that managing loss of hearing with hearing aids can help the symptoms of depression is backed up by other research that analyzed participants before and after using hearing aids. Even though only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, 34 individuals total, the researchers discovered that after only three months with hearing aids, all of them showed significant progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The same outcome was found from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person six months out from beginning to wear hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing found that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, the vets were still suffering from fewer symptoms of depression.
Loss of hearing is hard, but you don’t have to experience it by yourself. Get in touch with us for a hearing exam today.