Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related hearing loss. But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and for those below the age of 60, the number drops to 16%!). Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from untreated hearing loss; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they overlook seeking treatment for loss of hearing for a number of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported that they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, let alone looked into further treatment. For some people, it’s just like wrinkles or gray hair, just part of aging. Loss of hearing has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but due to the considerable developments that have been accomplished in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. Notably, more than just your hearing can be helped by managing loss of hearing, according to a growing body of data.
A recent study from a research group working from Columbia University, links depression and loss of hearing adding to the body of literature.
They assess each person for depression and administer an audiometric hearing exam. After correcting for a range of variables, the analysts found that the odds of having clinically significant signs of depression increased by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, approximately on par with the sound of leaves rustling.
The general link isn’t astonishing but it is surprising how quickly the odds of getting depression increase with only a small difference in sound. There is a large body of literature on hearing loss and depression and this new study adds to that research, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing worsened in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this research from 2014 that revealed that both people who reported having difficulty hearing and who were discovered to have loss of hearing based on hearing tests had a substantially higher chance of depression.
Here’s the good news: the connection that researchers think exists between loss of hearing and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Regular conversations and social situations are generally avoided because of the anxiety due to 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 quickly broken.
The symptoms of depression can be eased by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. A 2014 study that examined data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t consider the data over a period of time, they could not determine a cause and effect connection.
Nonetheless, the concept that managing hearing loss with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is born out by other studies that looked at individuals before and after getting hearing aids. Although only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, a total of 34, the researchers discovered that after only three months with hearing aids, they all displayed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same outcomes even further out, with every single individual in the small sample continuing to experience less depression six months prior to starting to use hearing aids. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were examined in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after beginning 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 by yourself. Get in touch with us for a hearing exam today.