Did you know that age-related loss of hearing impacts roughly one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and around half of those over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans are suffering from neglected loss of hearing depending on what research you look at; 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, specifically as they grow older. (One study found that just 28% of people who said that they suffered from loss of hearing had even gotten their hearing checked, much less sought additional treatment. It’s just part of getting older, for some individuals, like wrinkles or grey hair. It’s been easy to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but now, thanks to technological improvements, we can also deal with it. That’s important because an increasing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.
A recent study from a research group based at Columbia University, connects loss of hearing and depression adding to the body of literature.
They assess each subject for depression and give them an audiometric hearing exam. After adjusting for a range of factors, the researchers discovered that the odds of showing clinically substantial symptoms of depression climbed by around 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 leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.
The general connection isn’t astonishing but it is surprising how quickly the odds of getting depression go up with only a slight difference in sound. This new research adds to the sizable established literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing got worse in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this study from 2014 that revealed that both people who reported having trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests had a significantly higher risk of depression.
Here’s the plus side: it isn’t a biological or chemical connection that researchers think exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even normal interactions. This can intensify social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s quickly broken.
The symptoms of depression can be alleviated by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to several studies. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that revealing that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t focus on the data over time, they could not determine a cause and effect connection.
But other research that’s followed participants before and after using hearing aids re-affirms the theory that managing hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Although this 2011 study only checked a small cluster of individuals, a total of 34, the analysts discovered that after only three months with hearing aids, they all showed considerable improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact same outcome was discovered from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person in the sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were examined 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 need to experience it by yourself. Give us a call.