About half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are affected by age related hearing loss. But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and for those younger than 60, the number falls to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans are dealing with neglected loss of hearing depending on what research you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people grow older, they overlook getting treatment for hearing loss for a number of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported they had loss of hearing had even had their hearing tested, and the majority did not seek out further treatment. It’s just part of the aging process, for some individuals, like grey hair or wrinkles. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for a long time, but now, due to technological advancements, we can also treat it. That’s important because an increasing body of research demonstrates that treating loss of hearing can help more than your hearing.
A recent study from a research team working from Columbia University, connects loss of hearing and depression adding to the body of knowledge.
They give each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also assess them for symptoms of depression. After adjusting for a range of factors, the analysts discovered that the odds of having clinically substantial symptoms of depression climbed by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, approximately the same as the sound of leaves rustling.
The general link isn’t shocking but it is striking how quickly the odds of getting depression go up with only a small difference in sound. There is a large collection 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 loss of hearing worsened in relation to a declining of mental health, or this research from 2014 that people had a considerably higher risk of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.
The plus side is: it isn’t a chemical or biological link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Regular conversations and social situations are often avoided because of the anxiety over difficulty hearing. This can intensify social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a horrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily disrupted.
Numerous researchers have found that managing hearing loss, usually using hearing aids, can help to lessen symptoms of depression. 2014 research examined data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s revealing that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t look at the data over time, they could not determine a cause and effect connection.
But other studies which followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids bears out the proposal that treating loss of hearing can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 study, 34 subjects total, after just three months using hearing aids, according to the studies, they all revealed considerable improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact same result was found from even further out by another minor study from 2012, with every single individual six months out from beginning to wear hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were examined in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after beginning to wear hearing aids, the vets were still suffering from fewer symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to experience it by yourself. Get in touch with us for a hearing examination today.