Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related loss of hearing. But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and for those under the age of 60, the number drops to 16%!). Depending on whose data you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from untreated hearing loss; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they overlook getting treatment for hearing loss for a variety of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported they had loss of hearing had even had their hearing examined, and most did not look for further treatment. It’s simply part of aging, for some people, like wrinkles or grey hair. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for a long time, but now, due to technological developments, we can also deal with it. Notably, more than only your hearing can be improved by treating loss of hearing, according to a growing body of data.
A recent study from a Columbia research team adds to the literature connecting loss of hearing and depression.
They give each participant an audiometric hearing exam and also assess them for symptoms of depression. After correcting for a number of factors, the researchers discovered that the odds of having clinically substantial symptoms of depression climbed by around 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, about the same as the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic connection isn’t shocking but it is surprising how fast the odds of getting depression go up with only a small difference in sound. There is a large collection 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 got worse in relation to a declining of mental health, or this study from 2014 that people had a significantly higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.
The plus side is: the connection that researchers surmise exists between loss of hearing and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Regular interactions and social situations are often 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 horrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s quickly broken.
Several studies have found that dealing with hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can assist to relieve symptoms of depression. 2014 research examined data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t evaluate the data over a period of time, they couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship.
Nevertheless, the concept that managing hearing loss with hearing aids can help the symptoms of depression is born out by other research that examined subjects before and after using hearing aids. Even though this 2011 study only investigated a small group of individuals, 34 subjects total, the researchers discovered that after only three months with hearing aids, they all showed significant progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact 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 have the symptoms of less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. 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 use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not by yourself in the difficult struggle with loss of hearing. Call us.