Did you know that age-related loss of hearing affects around one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and for those under 60, the number falls to 16%!). Depending on whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from untreated hearing loss; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people grow older, they overlook getting treatment for hearing loss for a number of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing examined, though they reported suffering from loss of hearing, and most didn’t seek out additional treatment. For some folks, it’s like grey hair or wrinkles, just part of growing old. It’s been possible to diagnose loss of hearing for some time, but currently, due to technological advancements, we can also manage it. That’s significant because an increasing body of research shows that treating loss of hearing can help more than just your hearing.
A recent study from a research group based at Columbia University, adds to the body of knowledge associating hearing loss and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing exam to each subject and also examine them for symptoms of depression. After adjusting for a number of variables, the analysts discovered that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression climbed by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, approximately on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic connection isn’t shocking but it is surprising how rapidly the odds of suffering from depression go up with only a little difference in sound. This new study adds to the considerable established literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing got worse in relation to a declining of mental health, or this research from 2014 that revealed that both people who reported having problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing examinations had a significantly higher chance of depression.
The good news is: the link that researchers surmise 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 stay away from social situations or even everyday interactions. This can intensify social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is very easily broken even though it’s a horrible one.
Numerous studies have found that treating loss of hearing, most often using hearing aids, can assist to alleviate symptoms of depression. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that finding that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, though the writers didn’t establish a cause-and-effect connection since they were not evaluating statistics over time.
However, the concept that treating hearing loss with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is born out by other studies that analyzed individuals before and after getting hearing aids. Even though this 2011 study only checked a small group of people, 34 individuals total, the analysts found that after only three months using hearing aids, all of them displayed considerable progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another minor study from 2012 discovered the exact same outcomes even further out, with every single individual six months out from starting 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 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 intense struggle with loss of hearing. Get in touch with us for a hearing test today.