Did you realize 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 are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those under 69!). Dependant upon whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from untreated hearing loss; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
There are a number of justifications for why people may not seek treatment for loss of hearing, specifically as they grow older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing tested, though they said they suffered from loss of hearing, let alone looked into further treatment. It’s just part of getting older, for many people, like wrinkles or grey hair. It’s been possible to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but currently, due to technological developments, we can also manage it. That’s important because a developing body of research demonstrates that treating loss of hearing can improve more than just your hearing.
A recent study from a research group working from Columbia University, adds to the body of knowledge associating hearing loss and depression.
They assess each subject for depression and give them an audiometric hearing exam. After a range of factors are considered, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically significant signs of depression increased 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, about on par with the sound of leaves rustling.
The basic link isn’t shocking but it is striking how quickly the odds of being affected by depression go up with only a small 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 mental health worsened along with hearing loss, or this research from 2014 that found that both people who self-reported trouble hearing and who were discovered to suffer from hearing loss based on hearing examinations had a substantially higher chance of depression.
Here’s the plus side: the link that researchers suspect is present between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Everyday conversations and social situations are generally avoided due to anxiety over problems hearing. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is very easily broken despite the fact that it’s a horrible one.
The symptoms of depression can be minimized 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 individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the writers did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking into data over time.
But other studies which followed individuals before and after getting hearing aids re-affirms the theory that dealing with loss of hearing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 research, 34 individuals total, after just three months using hearing aids, according to the studies, all of them showed significant progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another minor study from 2012 uncovered the exact same outcomes even further out, with every single individual in the small sample continuing to experience less depression six months prior to starting to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that examined a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
Hearing loss is tough, but you don’t need to experience it by yourself. Get in touch with us for a hearing assessment today.