About half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related hearing loss. But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans are afflicted by neglected hearing loss depending on what figures you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they neglect seeking treatment for loss of hearing for a variety of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported that they suffered from loss of hearing had even had their hearing tested, and the majority did not look for additional treatment. It’s just part of getting older, for some people, like grey hair or wrinkles. It’s been easy to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but currently, due to technological improvements, we can also deal with it. That’s significant because a developing body of research reveals that treating hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.
A recent study from a research group based at Columbia University, adds to the literature connecting loss of hearing and depression.
They assess each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing examination. After correcting for a number of variables, the researchers found that the odds of showing clinically significant signs or symptoms of depression climbed by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, roughly the same as the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic connection isn’t shocking but it is striking how quickly the odds of getting depression increase with only a little difference in sound. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature connecting loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that hearing loss worsened in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this study from 2014 that found that both people who reported having problems hearing and who were found to have loss of hearing based on hearing examinations had a significantly higher chance of depression.
Here’s the good news: it isn’t a biological or chemical connection that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Normal conversations and social scenarios are often avoided because of the anxiety due to difficulty hearing. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is easily broken even though it’s a vicious one.
The symptoms of depression can be eased by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were evaluated in a 2014 study that revealing that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the writers didn’t determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t investigating statistics over time.
However, the principle that treating loss of hearing with hearing aids can help the symptoms of depression is born out by other studies that analyzed individuals before and after using hearing aids. Although this 2011 study only investigated a small group of individuals, 34 subjects total, the researchers found that after only three months using hearing aids, they all showed significant 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 six months out from starting to use hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. And in a study from 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, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
You’re not by yourself in the intense struggle with loss of hearing. Get in touch with us for a hearing examination today.