Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related hearing loss. But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and for those under the age of 60, the number goes down to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans are afflicted by untreated hearing loss depending on what numbers you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, specifically as they grow older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing checked, though they reported suffering from hearing loss, much less sought additional treatment. For some individuals, it’s like grey hair or wrinkles, a normal part of growing old. Loss of hearing has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but thanks to the considerable improvements that have been made in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a very manageable condition. That’s significant because a developing body of data shows that treating hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the body of knowledge connecting loss of hearing and depression.
They examine each participant for depression and give them an audiometric hearing test. After correcting for a number of variables, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically significant signs of depression climbed by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. 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.
It’s surprising that such a slight change in hearing produces such a significant increase in the odds of being affected by 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 loss of hearing got worse in relation to a declining of mental health, or this research from 2014 that people had a considerably higher risk of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.
The plus side is: the link that researchers suspect is present between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even everyday interactions. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is easily broken despite the fact that it’s a vicious one.
Several studies have found that treating loss of hearing, usually with hearing aids, can assist to relieve symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s finding that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors didn’t determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t observing data over time.
But other studies which followed participants before and after getting hearing aids re-affirms the proposal that dealing with loss of hearing can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Though this 2011 study only looked at a small cluster of people, a total of 34, after only three months using hearing aids, according to the studies, they all revealed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The exact same result was found from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single individual in the sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months after starting to use 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 starting to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
You’re not by yourself in the intense struggle with hearing loss. Give us a call.