Did you know that age-related loss of hearing affects roughly one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans suffer from untreated hearing loss depending on what statistics you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
As people grow older, they overlook seeking treatment for loss of hearing for a number of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing examined, even though they said they suffered from loss of hearing, and the majority did not seek further treatment. For some folks, it’s just like grey hair or wrinkles, just part of getting older. Hearing loss has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but thanks to the substantial developments that have been accomplished in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly treatable condition. Notably, more than only your hearing can be improved by managing loss of hearing, according to a growing body of data.
A recent study from a research group based at Columbia University, adds to the literature associating hearing loss and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing exam to each participant and also assess them for symptoms of depression. After correcting for a range of factors, the analysts discovered that the odds of showing 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, roughly the same as the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a tiny change in hearing yields such a large increase in the odds of being affected by depression, but the basic link isn’t shocking. 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 mental health worsened alongside hearing loss, or this paper from 2014 that people had a significantly higher chance of depression when they were either diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.
Here’s the plus side: the connection that researchers suspect is present between hearing loss 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 conversations. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a horrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily disrupted.
The symptoms of depression can be alleviated by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to a few studies. A 2014 study that examined 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, but because the authors didn’t considered the data over time, they couldn’t define a cause and effect connection.
However, the principle that treating loss of hearing with hearing aids can ease the symptoms of depression is born out by other studies that looked at participants before and after using hearing aids. Even though only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 study, a total of 34, after just three months using hearing aids, according to the studies, they all revealed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another minor study from 2012 found the same outcomes even further out, with every single individual six months out from starting to use hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not alone in the difficult struggle with loss of hearing. Call us.