About half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are affected by age related loss of hearing. But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that figure drops to 16% for those under 69!). Dependant upon whose data you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from neglected loss of hearing; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, specifically as they get older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing tested, even though they said they suffered from hearing loss, let alone looked into further treatment. For some folks, it’s the same as getting grey hair or wrinkles, just part of growing old. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for a long time, but now, thanks to technological advancements, we can also treat it. Notably, more than just your hearing can be improved by managing hearing loss, according to an expanding body of data.
A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the body of knowledge linking loss of hearing and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing test to each participant and also examine them for signs of depression. After correcting for a range of variables, the analysts discovered that the odds of having clinically significant signs of depression increased by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, approximately the same as the sound of leaves rustling.
It’s amazing that such a slight difference in hearing creates such a significant boost in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t shocking. This new research adds to the sizable existing literature linking 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 found that both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were discovered to have loss of hearing based on hearing exams had a substantially higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: it isn’t a chemical or biological connection that researchers think exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social scenarios or even everyday conversations. This can increase social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is easily disrupted even though it’s a horrible one.
The symptoms of depression can be minimized by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. 2014 research evaluated statistics from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors didn’t determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not considering statistics over time.
But other studies which followed individuals before and after using hearing aids bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, 34 people total, after only three months with hearing aids, according to the studies, all of them revealed considerable improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact same outcome was found from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person in the small sample continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to experience it alone. Contact us.