About 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 used hearing aids (and for those below the age of 60, the number falls to 16%!). Dependant upon whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from neglected loss of hearing; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
As people grow older, they neglect seeking treatment for hearing loss for a number of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported they suffered from loss of hearing had even gotten their hearing checked, and the majority did not seek additional treatment. It’s simply part of aging, for many people, like grey hair or wrinkles. Hearing loss has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but thanks to the substantial improvements that have been made in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a very manageable situation. That’s significant because a developing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A recent study from a research group working from Columbia University, adds to the body of knowledge associating hearing loss and depression.
They give each participant an audiometric hearing examination and also evaluate them for signs of depression. After a range of factors are taken into consideration, the researchers found that the odds of showing clinically significant 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 about as loud as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing generates such a significant increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic link isn’t shocking. This new study adds to the considerable established literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health got worse alongside hearing loss, or this study from 2014 that people had a dramatically 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 biological or chemical link that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of 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 horrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s quickly broken.
The symptoms of depression can be relieved by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. 2014 research examined statistics from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those 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 could not establish a cause and effect relationship.
Nonetheless, the principle that managing hearing loss with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is born out by other research that evaluated individuals before and after getting hearing aids. Though this 2011 study only checked a small group of individuals, 34 individuals total, the analysts discovered that after three months using hearing aids, all of them showed considerable improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The same result was found from even further out by another minor study from 2012, with every single individual six months out from beginning to wear hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groupings 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 use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
Loss of hearing is hard, but you don’t have to go it alone. Contact us.