Did you realize that age-related loss of hearing affects around one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under 69!). At least 20 million Americans suffer from untreated hearing loss depending on what stats you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
There are a number of justifications for why people may not get treatment for loss of hearing, specifically as they get older. (One study found that just 28% of people who reported that they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing checked, and the majority did not seek out further treatment. For some folks, it’s just like grey hair or wrinkles, a normal part of aging. It’s been possible to diagnose loss of hearing for some time, but now, thanks to technological advancements, we can also deal with it. That’s relevant because a developing body of data shows 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 body of knowledge connecting hearing loss and depression.
They evaluate each participant for depression and give them an audiometric hearing examination. After correcting for a number of variables, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically substantial symptoms of depression increased by about 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, about on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a small change in hearing creates such a significant boost in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic link isn’t shocking. This new study adds to the considerable existing literature connecting loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing worsened in relation to a declining of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that revealed that both individuals who reported having problems hearing and who were found to have loss of hearing based on hearing exams had a considerably higher risk of depression.
The plus side is: the link that researchers think exists between loss of hearing and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even everyday interactions. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is easily disrupted despite the fact that it’s a horrible one.
The symptoms of depression can be reduced by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to several studies. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that revealing that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t focus on the data over time, they could not pinpoint a cause and effect relationship.
However, the concept that managing loss of hearing with hearing aids can ease the symptoms of depression is backed up by other research that looked at participants before and after getting hearing aids. Even though only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 research, a total of 34, after only three months with hearing aids, according to the research, all of them showed significant progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The same outcome was found from even further out by another minor study from 2012, with every single individual six months out from starting to use hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. And in a study originating in 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not alone in the difficult struggle with hearing loss. Call us.