About 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 around 30% of older Americans who have hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and for those below the age of 60, the number drops to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans suffer from neglected loss of hearing depending on what statistics you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they overlook seeking treatment for loss of hearing for a variety of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing tested, even though they said they suffered from loss of hearing, much less looked into further treatment. For some folks, it’s the same as getting grey hair or wrinkles, a normal part of growing old. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for some time, but now, due to technological advancements, we can also deal with it. Significantly, more than only your hearing can be helped by treating loss of hearing, according to an expanding body of data.
A recent study from a research group based at Columbia University, connects depression and hearing loss adding to the body of knowledge.
They assess each subject for depression and administer an audiometric hearing exam. After a range of variables are taken into account, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically substantial symptoms of depression climbed by about 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, about on par with the sound of leaves rustling.
The general link isn’t astonishing but it is striking how rapidly the odds of being affected by depression increase 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 worsened along with hearing loss, or this paper from 2014 that revealed that both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have loss of hearing based on hearing examinations had a significantly higher chance of depression.
Here’s the good news: it isn’t a chemical or biological connection 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 normal interactions. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
The symptoms of depression can be reduced by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to a few studies. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at 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 look at the data over time, they could not define a cause and effect connection.
But other research that’s followed people before and after using hearing aids re-affirms the theory that managing loss of hearing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 research, a total of 34, the analysts discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them revealed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the exact same outcomes even further out, with every single person six months out from starting to wear hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were evaluated in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not alone in the difficult struggle with hearing loss. Give us a call.