Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts roughly one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and around half of those over 75)? 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%!). Depending on whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from untreated loss of hearing; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they neglect getting treatment for hearing loss for a variety of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported they suffered from loss of hearing had even had their hearing checked, and most did not seek out additional treatment. It’s simply part of the aging process, for many people, like grey hair or wrinkles. It’s been possible to diagnose loss of hearing for a long time, but now, thanks to technological developments, we can also treat it. Notably, more than only your hearing can be improved by managing loss of hearing, according to a growing body of research.
A recent study from a Columbia research team adds to the body of knowledge linking loss of hearing and depression.
They assess each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing examination. After a number of factors are taken into consideration, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically significant signs of depression climbed by approximately 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 rustling leaves.
The basic link isn’t astonishing but it is surprising how rapidly the odds of getting depression increase with only a small difference in sound. This new research adds to the substantial existing literature linking loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing got worse in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this study from 2014 that revealed that both individuals who reported having problems hearing and who were found to suffer from loss of hearing based on hearing examinations had a significantly higher risk of depression.
Here’s the plus side: it isn’t a biological or chemical connection that researchers think exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Regular conversations and social situations are often avoided because of the anxiety due to problems hearing. This can increase social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is very easily broken even though it’s a vicious one.
Numerous researchers have found that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s revealing that people who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t considered the data over time, they couldn’t define a cause and effect connection.
But other research that’s followed participants before and after using hearing aids bears out the proposal that dealing with loss of hearing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although 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, all of them revealed considerable progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The same outcome was discovered from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And in a study originating in 1992 that looked at a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss found that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
You’re not alone in the difficult struggle with loss of hearing. Get in touch with us for a hearing assessment today.