Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts around one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and for those under the age of 60, the number goes down to 16%!). Depending on whose data you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from untreated hearing loss; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they overlook getting treatment for loss of hearing for a variety of considerations. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing tested, though they reported suffering from loss of hearing, let alone sought further treatment. It’s simply part of growing old, for many people, like wrinkles or grey hair. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but due to the substantial improvements that have been accomplished in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a very manageable condition. Notably, more than only your hearing can be helped by managing loss of hearing, according to an expanding body of data.
A recent study from a Columbia research team adds to the literature linking hearing loss and depression.
They give each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluate them for signs of depression. After a number of variables are considered, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically substantial symptoms of depression climbed by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.
The general connection isn’t shocking but it is surprising how fast the odds of getting depression go up with only a little difference in sound. There is a large collection of literature on depression and hearing loss and this new study adds to that research, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that hearing loss got worse in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this study from 2014 that found that both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to suffer from loss of hearing based on hearing exams had a significantly higher risk of depression.
Here’s the plus side: the link that researchers suspect is present between loss of hearing and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Regular conversations and social situations are often avoided because of the anxiety over problems hearing. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is easily disrupted even though it’s a vicious one.
The symptoms of depression can be eased by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. 2014 research looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, though the authors did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not evaluating statistics over time.
But other research that’s followed subjects before and after using hearing aids bears out the theory that dealing with loss of hearing can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 research, 34 individuals total, the analysts discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them displayed considerable improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another minor study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person six months out from beginning to wear hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who were suffering from hearing loss were looked at in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
You’re not by yourself in the difficult struggle with hearing loss. Get in touch with us for a hearing test today.