About half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are affected by age related loss of hearing. But in spite of 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 falls to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans are dealing with neglected hearing loss depending on what statistics you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of justifications for why people might not get treatment for loss of hearing, specifically as they grow older. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing checked, though they reported suffering from loss of hearing, and most did not look for additional treatment. For some people, it’s like grey hair or wrinkles, just part of growing old. It’s been easy to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but currently, thanks to technological developments, we can also manage it. That’s important because a growing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A recent study from a research group based at Columbia University, links hearing loss and depression adding to the body of literature.
They assess each subject for depression and administer an audiometric hearing examination. After a number of factors are considered, the researchers found that the odds of showing clinically significant signs of depression climbed by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, approximately the same as the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s amazing that such a slight difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic connection 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 mental health worsened along with hearing loss, or this study from 2014 that revealed that both individuals who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to suffer from loss of hearing based on hearing tests had a substantially higher risk of depression.
The good news is: the link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Normal interactions and social situations are generally avoided because of the anxiety due to problems hearing. This can intensify social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is very easily broken even though it’s a horrible one.
The symptoms of depression can be reduced by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to a few studies. 2014 research evaluated data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s revealing that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, though the writers didn’t determine a cause-and-effect connection since they were not looking into data over time.
But other research that’s followed participants before and after getting hearing aids bears out the theory that treating loss of hearing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 research, a total of 34, the researchers discovered that after only three months with hearing aids, they all revealed significant progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The same outcome was found from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person in the small sample continuing to experience less depression six months prior to starting to wear hearing aids. And in a study originating in 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to experience it alone. Get in touch with us for a hearing assessment today.