Did you know that age-related loss of hearing impacts roughly one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans are dealing with untreated hearing loss depending on what figures you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of justifications for why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, specifically as they grow older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing checked, though they said they suffered from hearing loss, and the majority did not seek further treatment. It’s simply part of getting older, for some individuals, like wrinkles or grey hair. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but due to the substantial developments that have been made in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a very treatable situation. Notably, more than only your hearing can be improved by treating hearing loss, according to an expanding body of research.
A recent study from a Columbia research team adds to the body of knowledge connecting loss of hearing and depression.
They examine each subject for depression and give them an audiometric hearing examination. After a range of variables are considered, the researchers discovered that the odds of having clinically substantial signs or symptoms of depression climbed 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, approximately the same as the sound of leaves rustling.
It’s amazing that such a slight difference in hearing yields such a large boost in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. 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 mental health worsened alongside hearing loss, or this study from 2014 that found that both people who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to suffer from loss of hearing based on hearing examinations had a considerably higher chance of depression.
Here’s the good news: it isn’t a biological or chemical connection that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday interactions. This can increase social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is easily broken despite the fact that it’s a vicious one.
The symptoms of depression can be minimized by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to several studies. A 2014 study that examined data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the writers did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking into data over time.
But other research that’s followed subjects before and after using hearing aids re-affirms the hypothesis that dealing with loss of hearing can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Although this 2011 study only investigated a small cluster of people, a total of 34, after just three months with hearing aids, according to the studies, they all showed significant progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact same outcome was discovered from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single individual in the small sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months prior to beginning to wear hearing aids. And in a study originating in 1992 that observed a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not by yourself in the intense struggle with hearing loss. Get in touch with us for a hearing test today.