About half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are affected by age related hearing loss. But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and for those below the age of 60, the number falls to 16%!). Dependant upon whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from untreated hearing loss; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
As people grow older, they neglect seeking treatment for hearing loss for a number of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing examined, even though they reported suffering from hearing loss, and most didn’t seek additional treatment. For some people, it’s like grey hair or wrinkles, just part of getting older. It’s been possible to diagnose loss of hearing for some time, but currently, due to technological improvements, we can also treat it. Significantly, more than only your hearing can be helped by treating hearing loss, according to an increasing body of data.
A recent study from a research team based at Columbia University, links depression and hearing loss adding to the body of literature.
They administer an audiometric hearing exam to each subject and also examine them for signs of depression. After correcting for a number of factors, the analysts discovered that the odds of showing clinically substantial signs or symptoms of depression climbed by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And for the record, 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 striking how quickly the odds of getting depression go up with only a slight difference in sound. This new study adds to the considerable existing literature connecting 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 study from 2014 that revealed that both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were discovered to suffer from hearing loss based on hearing exams had a significantly 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. Normal conversations and social situations are often avoided because of the anxiety over problems hearing. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily disrupted.
Several studies have found that dealing with loss of hearing, usually using hearing aids, can assist to alleviate symptoms of depression. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were evaluated in a 2014 study that discovered that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t analyze the data over a period of time, they couldn’t determine a cause and effect connection.
But other studies which followed people before and after getting hearing aids re-affirms the proposal that dealing with hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Even though this 2011 study only checked a small cluster of individuals, 34 individuals total, the analysts discovered that after three months with hearing aids, they all revealed considerable progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The same result was discovered from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months prior to starting to use hearing aids. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who suffered from loss of hearing were evaluated in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.
You’re not alone in the difficult struggle with hearing loss. Contact us.