Did you know that age-related loss of hearing impacts roughly one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and around half of those are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those under 69!). Depending on whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from untreated loss of hearing; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of justifications for why people may not get treatment for loss of hearing, particularly as they get older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing examined, though they said they suffered from hearing loss, much less sought further treatment. For some folks, it’s just like grey hair or wrinkles, a normal part of growing old. Loss of hearing has long been easy to diagnose, but due to the considerable advancements that have been made in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly manageable condition. Significantly, more than just your hearing can be helped by managing loss of hearing, according to an increasing body of research.
A recent study from a Columbia research team connects loss of hearing and depression adding to the body of knowledge.
They examine each subject for depression and give them an audiometric hearing test. After adjusting for a range of factors, the researchers found that the odds of showing clinically significant signs or symptoms of depression climbed by around 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, roughly the same as the sound of rustling leaves.
The general link isn’t shocking but it is striking how fast the odds of being affected by depression go up with only a little difference in sound. This new research adds to the considerable established literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing worsened in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.
Here’s the good news: it isn’t a biological or chemical link that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Normal conversations and social scenarios are often avoided because of the anxiety over problems hearing. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s quickly broken.
A wide variety of researchers have found that managing loss of hearing, most often with hearing aids, can help to lessen symptoms of depression. 2014 research looked at statistics from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s revealing that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the writers didn’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t investigating data over time.
But other research that’s followed people before and after using hearing aids re-affirms the hypothesis that managing hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, 34 people total, after just three months using hearing aids, according to the research, they all displayed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another minor study from 2012 discovered the exact same results even further out, with every single individual in the small sample continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who suffered from loss of hearing were evaluated in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.
Loss of hearing is tough, but you don’t have to go it by yourself. Call us.