Did you realize that age-related loss of hearing impacts around one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under 69!). At least 20 million Americans are afflicted by neglected loss of hearing depending on what numbers you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported they had loss of hearing had even gotten their hearing tested, much less looked into further treatment. It’s just part of getting older, for many individuals, like wrinkles or grey hair. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for a long time, but currently, due to technological advancements, we can also deal with it. Notably, more than only your hearing can be helped by treating hearing loss, according to an increasing body of research.
A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the body of knowledge associating loss of hearing and depression.
They examine each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing examination. After a number of factors are considered, the analysts discovered that the odds of showing clinically substantial signs or symptoms of depression increased by approximately 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 rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.
It’s surprising that such a slight difference in hearing creates such a large increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, 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 people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were discovered to suffer from loss of hearing based on hearing tests had a significantly higher chance of depression.
Here’s the plus side: the connection that researchers think exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even everyday conversations. Social isolation can be the result, 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 hearing loss with hearing aids according to a few studies. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that revealing that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t evaluate the data over a period of time, they couldn’t establish a cause and effect connection.
But other studies which followed people before and after getting hearing aids re-affirms the proposal that treating loss of hearing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although this 2011 study only evaluated a small group of individuals, 34 people total, the analysts discovered that after only three months with hearing aids, all of them showed significant progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another minor study from 2012 found the exact same outcomes even further out, with every single person six months out from beginning to use hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were looked at in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still suffering from fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not alone in the difficult struggle with loss of hearing. Contact us.