Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related hearing loss. But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who have hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and for those under 60, the number goes down to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans are suffering from neglected hearing loss depending on what stats you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of justifications for why people may not get treatment for loss of hearing, specifically as they get older. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing examined, though they reported suffering from loss of hearing, and most did not seek out additional treatment. For some folks, it’s the same as getting wrinkles or gray hair, just part of getting older. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for some time, but now, thanks to technological advancements, we can also treat it. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research reveals that treating hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.
A recent study from a Columbia research team adds to the literature associating loss of hearing and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing examination to each subject and also assess them for signs of depression. After a number of variables are taken into consideration, 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 hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.
It’s surprising that such a tiny difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that hearing loss got worse in relation to a declining of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that found that both individuals who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing examinations had a significantly higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: the link that researchers suspect is present between loss of hearing and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Normal conversations and social scenarios are often avoided due to anxiety over problems hearing. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is easily broken despite the fact that it’s a horrible one.
The symptoms of depression can be eased by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. 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 more likely to experience symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t consider the data over a period of time, they could not establish a cause and effect connection.
But other research that’s followed subjects before and after using hearing aids bears out the proposal that dealing with hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Although only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 research, a total of 34, the researchers discovered that after only three months with hearing aids, they all revealed significant progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The same outcome was discovered from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single individual in the sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months prior to starting to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
Hearing loss is tough, but you don’t have to experience it alone. Get in touch with us for a hearing assessment today.