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 have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans are dealing with neglected hearing loss depending on what data you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of justifications for why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. (One study found that just 28% of people who said they had hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, much less looked into additional treatment. It’s just part of getting older, for some people, like grey hair or wrinkles. Hearing loss has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but due to the significant advancements that have been accomplished in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly manageable situation. Notably, more than only your hearing can be improved by treating hearing loss, according to a growing body of research.
A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the literature linking hearing loss and depression.
They assess each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing exam. After correcting for a number of variables, the analysts found that the odds of having clinically substantial signs or symptoms of depression climbed by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.
It’s amazing that such a small change in hearing yields such a large increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health got worse along with hearing loss, or this research from 2014 that people had a considerably higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.
The plus side is: the link that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Everyday interactions 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 horrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Several studies have found that managing hearing loss, typically using hearing aids, can assist to alleviate symptoms of depression. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were evaluated in a 2014 study that discovered that people who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t evaluate the data over time, they couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship.
Nevertheless, the principle that dealing with loss of hearing with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is born out by other studies that analyzed individuals before and after using hearing aids. Though this 2011 study only looked at a small cluster of people, a total of 34, the analysts found that after three months using hearing aids, all of them displayed considerable progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact same outcome was found from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single individual six months out from starting to wear hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. And in a study originating in 1992 that examined a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing found that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.
Loss of hearing is difficult, but you don’t need to go it by yourself. Contact us.