Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are affected by age related loss of hearing. But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who have hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under 69!). At least 20 million Americans are suffering from neglected hearing loss depending on what data you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
As people grow older, they neglect seeking treatment for hearing loss for a variety of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing checked, though they said they suffered from hearing loss, let alone sought further treatment. For some folks, it’s just like wrinkles or gray hair, a normal part of getting older. Loss of hearing has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable situation. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research shows that treating loss of hearing can improve more than just your hearing.
A recent study from a Columbia research group links depression and loss of hearing adding to the body of knowledge.
They evaluate each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing exam. After adjusting for a number of factors, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically significant symptoms of depression climbed by about 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 the same as the sound of leaves rustling.
The basic link isn’t astonishing but it is surprising how quickly the odds of suffering from depression increase with only a little difference in sound. This new research adds to the sizable established literature connecting loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health worsened alongside hearing loss, or this study from 2014 that revealed that both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were discovered to have loss of hearing based on hearing exams had a substantially higher risk of depression.
The good news is: the connection that researchers suspect 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 stay away from social situations or even normal interactions. This can intensify social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily disrupted.
A wide variety of researchers have found that treating loss of hearing, typically using hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that investigated statistics from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, though the authors did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not looking at data over time.
But other studies which followed participants before and after using hearing aids re-affirms the proposal that dealing with hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, a total of 34, the researchers found that after only three months with hearing aids, 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 six months out from beginning to use hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from loss of hearing were examined in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
You’re not alone in the difficult struggle with hearing loss. Give us a call.