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 have loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans suffer from neglected hearing loss depending on what stats you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people grow older, they overlook seeking treatment for loss of hearing for a number of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing checked, even though they said they suffered from loss of hearing, and most didn’t look for additional treatment. For some individuals, it’s just like wrinkles or gray hair, a normal part of growing old. Hearing loss has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but thanks to the substantial developments that have been accomplished in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable situation. Significantly, more than just your hearing can be improved by treating hearing loss, according to an increasing body of data.
A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the literature linking loss of hearing and depression.
They examine each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing test. After adjusting for a number of factors, the researchers found that the odds of showing clinically substantial signs or symptoms of depression climbed by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.
The basic connection isn’t shocking but it is surprising how rapidly the odds of suffering from depression increase with only a little difference in sound. There is a large collection of literature on depression and hearing loss and this new study adds to that research, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing worsened in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.
Here’s the good news: the connection that researchers think exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Normal interactions and social situations are often avoided because of the anxiety over problems hearing. This can intensify social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a pattern that is easily broken despite the fact that it’s a horrible one.
Several researchers have found that managing loss of hearing, usually with hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were evaluated in a 2014 study that finding that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the writers didn’t determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not investigating statistics over time.
Nevertheless, the principle that dealing with hearing loss with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is born out by other research that examined individuals before and after getting hearing aids. Although this 2011 study only looked at a small cluster of people, a total of 34, the researchers found that after only three months with hearing aids, they all showed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The exact same result was discovered from even further out by another minor study from 2012, with every single person in the sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And in a study originating in 1992 that observed a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
You’re not alone in the intense struggle with loss of hearing. Give us a call.