Did you realize that age-related loss of hearing affects roughly one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are over 75)? 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 under the age of 60, the number drops to 16%!). Depending on whose figures 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 variety of justifications for why people may not seek treatment for loss of hearing, especially as they get older. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing checked, though they said they suffered from hearing loss, and the majority didn’t look for additional treatment. For some folks, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just part of growing old. It’s been possible to diagnose loss of hearing for some time, but now, due to technological developments, we can also manage it. Notably, more than just your hearing can be improved by managing loss of hearing, according to an expanding body of research.
A recent study from a Columbia research team adds to the literature linking loss of hearing and depression.
They assess each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing test. After a number of factors are considered, the researchers discovered that the odds of showing clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.
The basic link isn’t shocking but it is surprising how quickly the odds of being affected by depression go up with only a small difference in sound. This new study adds to the considerable existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health got worse alongside hearing loss, or this paper from 2014 that found that both people who reported having problems hearing and who were discovered to suffer from loss of hearing based on hearing exams had a considerably higher chance of depression.
Here’s the plus side: it isn’t a chemical or biological connection that researchers surmise exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Everyday interactions and social scenarios are often avoided due to anxiety over problems hearing. Social alienation 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 disrupted.
A wide variety of studies have found that dealing with hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can assist to reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that examined data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, though the writers didn’t determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t observing data over time.
But other studies which followed participants before and after using hearing aids re-affirms the proposal that managing loss of hearing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Even though only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, 34 individuals total, the analysts discovered that after only three months with hearing aids, all of them displayed considerable progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The same outcome was discovered from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person in the sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months prior to beginning to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
You’re not alone in the difficult struggle with loss of hearing. Give us a call.