Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts around one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and around half of those are over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who have hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those under 69!). At least 20 million Americans have untreated hearing loss depending on what stats you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
As people grow older, they overlook getting treatment for hearing loss for a number of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing checked, even though they reported suffering from loss of hearing, let alone sought further treatment. For some folks, it’s just like grey hair or wrinkles, a normal part of getting older. Loss of hearing has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but thanks to the significant advancements that have been made in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly treatable condition. That’s important because an increasing body of data shows that treating hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A recent study from a Columbia research group connects hearing loss and depression adding to the body of knowledge.
They give each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluate them for symptoms of depression. After correcting for a number of factors, the analysts discovered that the odds of showing clinically substantial signs or symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about as loud as leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.
It’s surprising that such a small change in hearing produces such a large boost in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic connection isn’t shocking. This new research adds to the sizable existing 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 worsening of mental health, or this study from 2014 that found that both people who reported having problems hearing and who were discovered to suffer from hearing loss based on hearing exams had a significantly higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: it isn’t a biological or chemical link that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even normal interactions. This can increase social alienation, 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 managing loss of hearing, usually using hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were evaluated in a 2014 study that finding that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the writers did not establish a cause-and-effect connection since they weren’t investigating data over time.
But other studies which followed participants before and after using hearing aids re-affirms the theory that treating loss of hearing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 study, 34 individuals total, after just three months with hearing aids, according to the studies, all of them revealed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 discovered the exact same outcomes even further out, with every single individual in the small sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who were suffering from hearing loss were evaluated in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after beginning to wear hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.
Loss of hearing is hard, but you don’t need to experience it alone. Get in touch with us for a hearing test today.