Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related loss of hearing. But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under 69!). At least 20 million Americans are dealing with neglected loss of hearing depending on what numbers you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they overlook getting treatment for loss of hearing for a variety of considerations. (One study found that just 28% of people who reported they had hearing loss had even had their hearing checked, and most didn’t seek additional treatment. For some individuals, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just part of growing old. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the significant developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable situation. That’s significant because a growing body of data reveals that treating hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.
A recent study from a research team based at Columbia University, adds to the body of knowledge connecting hearing loss and depression.
They assess each participant for depression and administer an audiometric hearing exam. After a range of factors are considered, the researchers discovered that the odds of having clinically substantial symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.
The general connection isn’t astonishing but it is surprising how rapidly the odds of suffering from depression go up with only a little difference in sound. There is a large collection of literature on depression and hearing loss and this new study adds to that research, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss, or this paper from 2014 that people had a significantly higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.
The good news is: the connection that researchers suspect exists between loss of hearing and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Everyday interactions and social situations are generally avoided because of the anxiety due to problems hearing. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a pattern that is very easily broken despite the fact that it’s a horrible one.
Several researchers have found that managing hearing loss, typically using hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that revealing that people who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t considered the data over a period of time, they could not pinpoint a cause and effect relationship.
But other studies which followed people before and after using hearing aids bears out the proposal that managing hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although this 2011 study only checked a small group of people, a total of 34, the analysts found that after three months using hearing aids, all of them revealed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The exact same outcome was found from even further out by another minor study from 2012, with every single person six months out from starting to wear hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. And in a study originating in 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not alone in the intense struggle with loss of hearing. Get in touch with us for a hearing test today.