About half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are affected by age related loss of hearing. But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under 69!). At least 20 million Americans are suffering from neglected hearing loss depending on what data you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
There are a number of justifications for why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. (One study found that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, and the majority didn’t seek further treatment. It’s just part of growing old, for many people, like wrinkles or grey hair. Hearing loss has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but thanks to the considerable improvements that have been made in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly manageable condition. Significantly, more than just your hearing can be helped by managing loss of hearing, according to an increasing body of data.
A recent study from a research team based at Columbia University, connects loss of hearing and depression adding to the body of literature.
They administer an audiometric hearing exam to each participant and also evaluate them for symptoms of depression. After a number of variables are considered, the researchers discovered that the odds of having clinically substantial signs or 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 leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.
The general connection isn’t shocking but it is striking how quickly the odds of getting depression increase with only a slight difference in sound. This new research adds to the sizable 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 research from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.
Here’s the plus side: the connection that researchers suspect is present between loss of hearing and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even normal interactions. This can intensify social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a pattern that is easily broken despite the fact that it’s a horrible one.
The symptoms of depression can be reduced 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 discovered that those who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, though the writers didn’t determine a cause-and-effect connection since they were not looking into statistics over time.
But other studies which followed individuals before and after using hearing aids bears out the hypothesis that treating loss of hearing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, 34 people total, after just three months with hearing aids, according to the studies, all of them showed considerable progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The exact same outcome was discovered from even further out by another minor study from 2012, with every single person in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months prior to starting to wear hearing aids. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from loss of hearing were evaluated in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.
Loss of hearing is difficult, but you don’t need to experience it alone. Contact us.