Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are affected by age related loss of hearing. But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and for those younger than 60, the number goes down to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans are suffering from untreated loss of hearing depending on what research you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
As people grow older, they overlook getting treatment for loss of hearing for a variety of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing tested, though they said they suffered from hearing loss, much less sought additional treatment. It’s simply part of getting older, for some people, like wrinkles or grey hair. It’s been possible to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but currently, due 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 your hearing.
A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the literature linking loss of hearing and depression.
They give each participant an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluate them for symptoms of depression. After a number of variables are considered, the analysts discovered that the odds of having clinically substantial signs 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 quieter than a whisper, approximately the same as the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic link isn’t astonishing but it is striking how quickly the odds of suffering from depression go up with only a small difference in sound. There is a large collection of literature on hearing loss and depression and this new study adds to that research, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health got worse along with hearing loss, or this research from 2014 that people had a considerably higher chance of depression when they were either diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.
The plus side is: the link that researchers surmise is present between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday conversations. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a pattern that is easily broken despite the fact that it’s a vicious one.
The symptoms of depression can be minimized by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to several studies. 2014 research investigated data from over 1,000 people in their 70s revealing that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, though the writers did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not observing statistics over time.
Nonetheless, the theory that dealing with loss of hearing with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is backed up by other studies that looked at individuals before and after using hearing aids. Although this 2011 study only looked at a small cluster of people, 34 people total, after just three months using hearing aids, according to the research, all of them showed considerable progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another minor study from 2012 uncovered the same outcomes even further out, with every single individual in the small sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months prior to beginning to use hearing aids. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who were suffering from loss of hearing were looked at in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still suffering from fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not alone in the difficult struggle with hearing loss. Get in touch with us for a hearing examination today.