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 loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans are suffering from neglected hearing loss depending on what stats you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of justifications for why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, specifically as they get older. (One study found that only 28% of people who said that they suffered from loss of hearing had even gotten their hearing checked, and most didn’t seek additional treatment. For some folks, it’s the same as getting wrinkles or gray hair, just part of aging. Loss of hearing has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but due to the significant advancements that have been accomplished in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. Notably, more than only your hearing can be improved by treating hearing loss, according to a growing body of data.
A recent study from a research team based at Columbia University, links hearing loss and depression adding to the body of knowledge.
They administer an audiometric hearing test to each participant and also evaluate them for signs of depression. After correcting for a number of variables, the analysts discovered that the odds of having clinically significant signs of depression increased by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, about on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
The general connection isn’t shocking but it is striking how rapidly the odds of suffering from depression go up with only a slight 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 hearing loss worsened in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that found that both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to suffer from hearing loss based on hearing exams had a significantly higher risk of depression.
The good news is: the link that researchers think is present between loss of hearing and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social scenarios or even everyday conversations. 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 easily disrupted.
A wide variety of studies have found that treating hearing loss, most often using hearing aids, can assist to lessen symptoms of depression. 2014 research examined data from over 1,000 people in their 70s revealing that those who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t analyze the data over a period of time, they could not determine a cause and effect relationship.
But other studies which followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids re-affirms the proposal that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Even though only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 research, a total of 34, the researchers found that after only three months with hearing aids, all of them showed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The exact same result was found from even further out by another minor study from 2012, with every single person six months out from beginning to wear hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. And in a study from 1992 that examined a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to wear hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not by yourself in the intense struggle with loss of hearing. Contact us.