Did you realize that age-related loss of hearing affects roughly one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and around half of those over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under 69!). At least 20 million Americans are suffering from neglected hearing loss depending on what figures you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they neglect seeking treatment for hearing loss for a variety of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing tested, even though they said they suffered from loss of hearing, and most did not seek out additional treatment. For some people, it’s the same as getting grey hair or wrinkles, a normal part of growing old. It’s been possible to diagnose loss of hearing for a long time, but currently, due to technological developments, we can also manage it. Notably, more than only your hearing can be improved by treating loss of hearing, according to an expanding body of research.
A recent study from a research group based at Columbia University, adds to the literature associating loss of hearing and depression.
They examine each participant for depression and give them an audiometric hearing test. After a number of factors are taken into consideration, the analysts discovered that the odds of having clinically substantial signs of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.
It’s amazing that such a slight difference in hearing generates such a big increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new research adds to the sizable existing literature linking loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health got worse alongside hearing loss, or this study from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher risk of depression when they were either diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.
Here’s the plus side: it isn’t a biological or chemical connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social scenarios or even normal interactions. This can increase social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a pattern that is very easily broken even though it’s a horrible one.
The symptoms of depression can be eased by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that revealing that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, though the writers did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
Nevertheless, the theory that treating hearing loss with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is born out by other studies that examined subjects before and after using hearing aids. Although only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 research, 34 individuals total, the analysts found that after three months using hearing aids, all of them revealed significant improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact same result 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 observed a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing found that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not alone in the intense struggle with loss of hearing. Get in touch with us for a hearing exam today.