About half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are affected by age related hearing loss. But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that figure drops to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans are dealing with neglected loss of hearing depending on what figures you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing examined, even though they reported suffering from loss of hearing, and most did not look for further treatment. For some folks, it’s the same as getting grey hair or wrinkles, just part of aging. Loss of hearing has long been easy to diagnose, but due to the significant improvements that have been accomplished in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. That’s important because an increasing body of research demonstrates that treating loss of hearing can help more than just your hearing.
A recent study from a research group based at Columbia University, connects depression and loss of hearing adding to the body of knowledge.
They administer an audiometric hearing examination to each subject and also examine them for symptoms of depression. After correcting for a range of variables, the analysts found that the odds of having clinically significant signs of depression climbed by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. 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 slight change in hearing produces such a big increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. This new research adds to the considerable established literature linking hearing loss and depression, 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 self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have loss of hearing based on hearing exams had a significantly higher risk of depression.
Here’s the plus side: it isn’t a chemical or biological link that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Regular conversations and social scenarios are generally avoided because of the anxiety over problems hearing. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is very easily broken despite the fact that it’s a vicious one.
Several researchers have found that treating hearing loss, typically using hearing aids, can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that finding that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t examine the data over time, they couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship.
Nevertheless, the principle that dealing with hearing loss with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is born out by other research that examined participants before and after getting hearing aids. Although this 2011 study only checked a small cluster of individuals, a total of 34, after only three months using hearing aids, according to the studies, they all showed significant progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another minor study from 2012 uncovered the same outcomes even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were evaluated in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.
Loss of hearing is tough, but you don’t need to go it alone. Call us.