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 hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and for those younger than 60, the number goes down to 16%!). Dependant upon whose numbers 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.
As people get older, they overlook getting treatment for hearing loss for a number of reasons. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing tested, though they said they suffered from hearing loss, much less sought additional treatment. For some folks, it’s the same as getting wrinkles or gray hair, a normal part of growing old. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for a long time, but now, due to technological developments, we can also treat it. Notably, more than just your hearing can be helped by managing hearing loss, according to a growing body of research.
A recent study from a research team working from Columbia University, adds to the literature linking hearing loss and depression.
They evaluate each participant for depression and administer an audiometric hearing exam. After a number of factors are considered, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically significant signs or symptoms 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, about on par with the sound of leaves rustling.
It’s amazing that such a small change in hearing generates such a large boost in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature linking loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health got worse along with hearing loss, or this paper from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher risk of depression when they were either diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.
The good news is: it isn’t a biological or chemical connection that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social scenarios or even normal interactions. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is very easily disrupted despite the fact that it’s a vicious one.
Numerous researchers have found that dealing with hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that evaluated statistics from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the writers did not establish a cause-and-effect connection since they were not considering statistics over time.
But other studies which followed people before and after using hearing aids bears out the proposal that managing hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though this 2011 study only examined a small group of individuals, a total of 34, after just three months with hearing aids, according to the studies, all of them revealed significant progress 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 individual in the small sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months prior to starting to use hearing aids. Large groups of U.S. veterans who were suffering from hearing loss were looked at in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
You’re not by yourself in the difficult struggle with hearing loss. Contact us.