Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts roughly one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those under 69!). Dependant upon whose data you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from neglected hearing loss; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, specifically as they get older. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing checked, even though they said they suffered from loss of hearing, let alone sought additional treatment. It’s just part of getting older, for some people, like grey hair or wrinkles. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but due to the substantial improvements that have been accomplished in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. That’s important because a developing body of data reveals that treating loss of hearing can improve more than just your hearing.
A recent study from a Columbia research group connects depression and loss of hearing adding to the body of knowledge.
They administer an audiometric hearing examination to each participant and also examine them for symptoms of depression. After a range of factors are considered, the researchers discovered that the odds of showing clinically significant signs of depression climbed by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. 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 tiny difference in hearing generates such a significant increase in the odds of being affected by depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. This new research adds to the substantial established literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that hearing loss worsened in relation to a declining of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher risk of depression when they were either diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.
The plus side is: it isn’t a chemical or biological link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social scenarios or even normal conversations. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a horrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s quickly broken.
The symptoms of depression can be minimized by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to several studies. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that finding 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 focus on the data over a period of time, they couldn’t establish a cause and effect connection.
However, the concept that managing hearing loss with hearing aids can help the symptoms of depression is born out by other studies that examined participants before and after using hearing aids. Even though only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 research, a total of 34, after only three months using hearing aids, according to the studies, all of them showed significant improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact same outcome was discovered from even further out by another minor study from 2012, with every single person six months out from starting to wear hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. And in a study from 1992 that examined a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss found that a full 12 months after beginning to wear hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not by yourself in the intense struggle with loss of hearing. Call us.