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 have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans suffer from untreated hearing loss depending on what research you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of justifications for why people might not get treatment for loss of hearing, particularly as they get older. (One study found that just 28% of people who reported that they suffered from loss of hearing had even had their hearing examined, let alone looked into additional treatment. It’s simply part of aging, for some people, like grey hair or wrinkles. It’s been possible to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but now, due to technological improvements, we can also treat it. Notably, more than just your hearing can be helped by treating hearing loss, according to a growing body of research.
A recent study from a research team working from Columbia University, links hearing loss and depression adding to the body of literature.
They administer an audiometric hearing exam to each participant and also evaluate them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a number of factors, the researchers found that the odds of showing clinically significant symptoms of depression climbed by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.
It’s surprising that such a tiny difference in hearing creates such a significant boost in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic connection isn’t shocking. This new study adds to the sizable established literature linking loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health got worse alongside hearing loss, or this study from 2014 that found that both individuals who reported having difficulty hearing and who were found to suffer from loss of hearing based on hearing tests had a substantially higher risk of depression.
The good news is: it isn’t a biological or chemical connection that researchers suspect exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even normal conversations. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is easily disrupted even though it’s a vicious one.
The symptoms of depression can be reduced by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to several studies. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were evaluated in a 2014 study that discovered that people who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not focusing on statistics over time.
But other studies which followed people before and after using hearing aids bears out the theory that dealing with loss of hearing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 study, 34 people total, after just three months using hearing aids, according to the studies, they all showed considerable improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact same result was found from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person six months out from starting to use hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were evaluated in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is tough, but you don’t need to experience it by yourself. Call us.