About 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 for those below the age of 60, the number goes down to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans are dealing with untreated hearing loss depending on what data you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they neglect seeking treatment for loss of hearing for a number of considerations. (One study found that just 28% of people who reported that they had loss of hearing had even gotten their hearing checked, much less sought additional treatment. It’s simply part of getting older, for many people, like wrinkles or grey hair. It’s been possible to diagnose loss of hearing for some time, but currently, due to technological improvements, we can also treat it. Notably, more than only your hearing can be improved by managing hearing loss, according to an expanding body of data.
A recent study from a research team working from Columbia University, adds to the literature connecting hearing loss and depression.
They examine each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing exam. After a number of variables are considered, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically significant symptoms of depression climbed by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, approximately the same as the sound of leaves rustling.
It’s amazing that such a slight difference in hearing creates such a significant boost in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. There is a large body 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 loss of hearing got worse in relation to a declining of mental health, or this research from 2014 that revealed that both individuals who reported having difficulty hearing and who were discovered to have hearing loss based on hearing exams had a substantially higher risk of depression.
The good news is: it isn’t a biological or chemical link that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Regular conversations and social scenarios are generally avoided due to anxiety over difficulty hearing. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily disrupted.
Several researchers have found that dealing with hearing loss, usually using hearing aids, can assist to reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that evaluated data from over 1,000 people in their 70s finding that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect connection since they were not evaluating statistics over time.
But other research that’s followed individuals before and after using hearing aids bears out the proposal that dealing with loss of hearing can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Although only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, a total of 34, the researchers found that after three months using hearing aids, all of them showed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another minor study from 2012 uncovered the same outcomes even further out, with every single individual six months out from beginning to use hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were examined in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
You’re not alone in the difficult struggle with hearing loss. Get in touch with us for a hearing examination today.