Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related loss of hearing. But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and for those below the age of 60, the number falls to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans are dealing with untreated loss of hearing depending on what figures you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they overlook seeking treatment for hearing loss for a variety of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported they had loss of hearing had even had their hearing checked, and the majority did not seek out additional treatment. It’s simply part of aging, for many individuals, like grey hair or wrinkles. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but due to the significant improvements that have been accomplished in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable situation. Notably, more than just your hearing can be helped by managing loss of hearing, according to an expanding body of research.
A recent study from a Columbia research group connects depression and loss of hearing adding to the body of literature.
They administer an audiometric hearing test to each participant and also examine them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a range of factors, the researchers found that the odds of showing clinically substantial 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 about the same as leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.
It’s amazing that such a little change in hearing yields such a large increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. There is a large body 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 hearing loss got worse in relation to a declining of mental health, or this research from 2014 that people had a significantly higher risk of depression when they were either diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.
Here’s the good news: it isn’t a chemical or biological connection that researchers suspect exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Normal conversations and social scenarios are often avoided due to anxiety due to difficulty hearing. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a pattern 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 several studies. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that discovered that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors didn’t determine a cause-and-effect connection since they weren’t evaluating statistics over time.
Nonetheless, the concept that dealing with loss of hearing with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is born out by other studies that analyzed individuals before and after getting hearing aids. Although only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 study, a total of 34, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them revealed considerable progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single person in the small sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months prior to starting to use hearing aids. And in a study originating in 1992 that examined a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
Loss of hearing is tough, but you don’t have to go it by yourself. Get in touch with us for a hearing test today.