Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related loss of hearing. 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 goes down to 16% for those under 69!). Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from neglected hearing loss; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of justifications for why people might not seek treatment for loss of hearing, specifically as they get older. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing examined, even though they reported suffering from hearing loss, let alone looked into further treatment. For some people, it’s the same as getting wrinkles or gray hair, just part of aging. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for a long time, but currently, thanks to technological developments, we can also treat it. Notably, more than just your hearing can be improved by managing hearing loss, according to a growing body of research.
A recent study from a Columbia research group connects depression and loss of hearing adding to the body of literature.
They examine each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing exam. After adjusting for a number of factors, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about as loud as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.
The general link isn’t shocking but it is surprising how rapidly the odds of being affected by depression go up with only a small difference in sound. This new study adds to the considerable established literature connecting loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing worsened in relation to a declining of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.
The plus side is: it isn’t a chemical or biological connection that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social scenarios or even everyday conversations. Social alienation 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 alleviated by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to several studies. 2014 research evaluated data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s finding that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t considered the data over a period of time, they couldn’t define a cause and effect connection.
But other studies which followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids bears out the hypothesis that managing loss of hearing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 research, 34 people total, the researchers discovered that after only three months with hearing aids, all of them revealed considerable progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the exact same results even further out, with every single individual six months out from beginning to wear hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not alone in the intense struggle with loss of hearing. Get in touch with us for a hearing assessment today.