Did you know that age-related hearing loss impacts around one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and for those below the age of 60, the number goes down to 16%!). Depending on whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from neglected hearing loss; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. (One study found that just 28% of people who reported they had hearing loss had even gotten their hearing checked, and most did not seek out further treatment. For some individuals, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, a normal part of getting older. Loss of hearing has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly manageable situation. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research 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 linking hearing loss and depression.
They evaluate each participant for depression and administer an audiometric hearing exam. After a number of factors are considered, the analysts discovered that the odds of showing clinically substantial symptoms of depression climbed by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about as loud as leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.
It’s amazing that such a slight change in hearing yields such a significant boost in the odds of being affected by depression, but the basic connection isn’t shocking. This new study adds to the substantial established literature connecting loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health worsened alongside hearing loss, or this paper from 2014 that people had a considerably higher chance of depression when they were either diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.
The plus side is: it isn’t a chemical or biological connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Everyday conversations and social scenarios are generally avoided because of the anxiety over difficulty hearing. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is easily broken despite the fact that 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. 2014 research evaluated data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t consider the data over a period of time, they couldn’t define a cause and effect connection.
But other studies which followed participants before and after using hearing aids bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Although this 2011 study only investigated a small group of people, 34 individuals total, after just three months using hearing aids, according to the research, they all revealed significant progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The same outcome was found from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person in the small sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months after beginning to wear hearing aids. Large groups of U.S. veterans who were suffering from loss of hearing were evaluated in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
Loss of hearing is difficult, but you don’t need to experience it alone. Get in touch with us for a hearing test today.