Did you know that age-related loss of hearing impacts around one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and around half of those are 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 under the age of 60, the number goes down to 16%!). Dependant upon whose data 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.
There are a variety of reasons why people may not seek treatment for loss of hearing, particularly as they get older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing tested, even though they reported suffering from loss of hearing, and the majority did not look for further treatment. It’s just part of getting older, for some people, like wrinkles or grey hair. It’s been possible to diagnose loss of hearing for a long time, but now, due to technological advancements, we can also manage it. Significantly, more than only your hearing can be improved by treating hearing loss, according to an expanding body of research.
A recent study from a research group based at Columbia University, adds to the body of knowledge connecting loss of hearing and depression.
They assess each person for depression and administer an audiometric hearing examination. After a number of factors are considered, the analysts discovered that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression climbed by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about as loud as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.
The basic link isn’t shocking but it is striking how rapidly the odds of getting depression go up with only a slight difference in sound. There is a large collection of literature on depression and hearing loss and this new study adds to that research, 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 paper 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 tests had a considerably higher chance of depression.
Here’s the good news: the connection that researchers surmise is present between loss of hearing 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 normal conversations. Social isolation 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 broken.
The symptoms of depression can be reduced by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to a few studies. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that finding that people who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the writers didn’t define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not observing statistics over time.
Nonetheless, the concept that treating hearing loss with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is born out by other research that looked at individuals before and after using hearing aids. Although only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 research, 34 subjects total, after only three months with hearing aids, according to the research, all of them showed significant progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 uncovered the same outcomes even further out, with every single person in the sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months prior to starting to wear hearing aids. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from loss of hearing were looked at in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after beginning to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
Loss of hearing is hard, but you don’t have to experience it by yourself. Get in touch with us for a hearing assessment today.