About half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are affected by age related hearing loss. But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and for those younger than 60, the number falls to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans have untreated loss of hearing depending on what stats you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of justifications for why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported they suffered from loss of hearing had even had their hearing tested, let alone sought further treatment. It’s simply part of growing old, for many individuals, like grey hair or wrinkles. Loss of hearing has long been easy to diagnose, but due to the considerable developments that have been made in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly manageable condition. That’s important because an increasing body of data shows that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A recent study from a research group based at Columbia University, connects depression and loss of hearing adding to the body of literature.
They evaluate each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing exam. After a range of variables are considered, the researchers discovered that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by approximately 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, roughly on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
The general connection isn’t astonishing but it is striking how fast the odds of being affected by depression increase with only a slight difference in sound. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health worsened alongside hearing loss, or this study from 2014 that found that both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were discovered to have loss of hearing based on hearing examinations had a substantially higher risk of depression.
The plus side is: it isn’t a chemical or biological link that researchers think exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Regular conversations and social scenarios are generally avoided because of the anxiety over difficulty hearing. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is easily disrupted even though it’s a horrible one.
Several studies have found that dealing with hearing loss, usually using hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. 2014 research evaluated data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s finding that people who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, though the writers didn’t define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t considering statistics over time.
But other research that’s followed people before and after getting hearing aids bears out the hypothesis that managing hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Even though 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 showed significant improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another small-scale study from 2012 discovered the exact same outcomes even further out, with every single person in the small sample continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And in a study originating in 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.
Loss of hearing is tough, but you don’t have to experience it alone. Get in touch with us for a hearing assessment today.