Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are affected by age related hearing loss. But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and for those below the age of 60, the number goes down to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans are suffering from untreated hearing loss depending on what research you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people might not seek treatment for loss of hearing, especially as they grow older. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported they suffered from loss of hearing had even gotten their hearing checked, and the majority didn’t look for further treatment. It’s just part of growing old, for many individuals, like grey hair or wrinkles. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but due to the considerable advancements that have been accomplished in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a very manageable condition. Notably, more than only your hearing can be helped by managing hearing loss, according to a growing body of research.
A recent study from a research group working from Columbia University, connects loss of hearing and depression adding to the body of knowledge.
They give each subject an audiometric hearing examination and also evaluate them for signs of depression. After a range of variables are considered, the analysts discovered that the odds of showing clinically significant signs or symptoms of depression increased 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 as loud as leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.
The basic connection isn’t shocking but it is surprising how fast the odds of getting depression go up with only a small difference in sound. This new research adds to the sizable existing literature connecting hearing loss 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 people had a significantly 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 chemical or biological link that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday conversations. This can intensify social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily disrupted.
The symptoms of depression can be eased by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s revealing that those who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t look at the data over time, they couldn’t pinpoint a cause and effect connection.
Nevertheless, the principle that treating loss of hearing with hearing aids can help the symptoms of depression is backed up by other research that examined subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Although this 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, a total of 34, the researchers found that after three months using hearing aids, they all showed considerable progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another small-scale study from 2012 discovered the exact 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 hearing loss were evaluated in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not alone in the intense struggle with hearing loss. Contact us.