About half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related hearing loss. But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under 69!). At least 20 million Americans are suffering from untreated hearing loss depending on what stats you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
As people grow older, they neglect getting treatment for loss of hearing for a number of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing examined, even though they reported suffering from loss of hearing, much less looked into further treatment. It’s simply part of growing old, for some individuals, like grey hair or wrinkles. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for some time, but now, thanks to technological improvements, we can also treat it. That’s relevant because a growing body of research reveals that treating hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.
A recent study from a research group working from Columbia University, connects depression and hearing loss adding to the body of knowledge.
They assess each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing exam. After adjusting for a number of variables, the researchers discovered that the odds of showing clinically significant signs or symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.
It’s surprising that such a tiny difference in hearing produces such a large boost in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new study adds to the sizable established literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health got worse alongside hearing loss, or this research from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher risk of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.
Here’s the good news: the link that researchers think exists between loss of hearing and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday conversations. 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.
Numerous researchers have found that dealing with loss of hearing, usually with hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that finding that those who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect connection since they were not considering data over time.
But other studies which followed participants before and after getting hearing aids re-affirms the theory that treating loss of hearing can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Although this 2011 study only investigated a small cluster of individuals, 34 subjects total, the researchers discovered that after three months using hearing aids, they all displayed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the exact same outcomes even further out, with every single person six months out from beginning to use hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who suffered from loss of hearing were examined in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
You’re not by yourself in the difficult struggle with loss of hearing. Get in touch with us for a hearing examination today.