Did you know that age-related loss of hearing affects around one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and around half of those over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that figure drops to 16% for those under the age of 69!). Depending on whose data you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from untreated loss of hearing; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, especially as they get older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing examined, though they reported suffering from loss of hearing, and most did not seek further treatment. For some folks, it’s the same as getting grey hair or wrinkles, just part of growing old. It’s been easy to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but now, due to technological developments, we can also deal with it. That’s relevant because a growing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.
A recent study from a research group working from Columbia University, links depression and hearing loss adding to the body of knowledge.
They examine each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing examination. After a range of factors are considered, the analysts found that the odds of having clinically substantial signs of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.
It’s surprising that such a small change in hearing produces such a big boost in the odds of being affected by depression, but the basic link isn’t shocking. There is a large collection 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 hearing loss worsened in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this research from 2014 that people had a considerably higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.
The good news is: it isn’t a biological or chemical link that researchers think exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social scenarios or even normal interactions. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
The symptoms of depression can be reduced by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that 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 couldn’t establish a cause and effect connection.
But other research that’s followed people before and after getting hearing aids bears out the hypothesis that dealing with loss of hearing can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Although only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, a total of 34, the analysts found that after only three months with hearing aids, they all revealed considerable progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The exact same outcome was discovered from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person six months out from starting to use hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were examined in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to wear hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
Loss of hearing is hard, but you don’t have to experience it alone. Get in touch with us for a hearing test today.