Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related hearing loss. But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under 69!). Depending on whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from untreated hearing loss; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they overlook getting treatment for loss of hearing for a number of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing tested, though they said they suffered from hearing loss, and most didn’t look for further treatment. For some folks, it’s like grey hair or wrinkles, a normal part of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but due to the substantial advancements that have been accomplished in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly treatable condition. Notably, more than only your hearing can be improved by treating loss of hearing, according to an increasing body of research.
A recent study from a Columbia research group links loss of hearing and depression adding to the body of literature.
They evaluate each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing examination. After a number of variables are considered, the analysts found that the odds of having clinically significant signs or symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about as loud as leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.
The basic link isn’t astonishing but it is striking how fast the odds of being affected by depression go up with only a small difference in sound. There is a large body of literature on hearing loss and depression and this new study adds to that research, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss, or this research from 2014 that revealed that both individuals who reported having trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing examinations had a considerably higher risk of depression.
The plus side is: the link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday conversations. This can increase social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a horrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
The symptoms of depression can be eased by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. A 2014 study that examined statistics from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s revealing that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors didn’t determine a cause-and-effect connection since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But other studies which followed participants before and after using hearing aids bears out the theory that managing hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though this 2011 study only examined a small group of individuals, 34 individuals total, after just three months with hearing aids, according to the studies, they all showed significant progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another minor study from 2012 discovered the same outcomes even further out, with every single person six months out from starting to wear hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. And in a study originating in 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
Hearing loss is tough, but you don’t have to experience it alone. Get in touch with us for a hearing exam today.