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 about 30% of older Americans who have hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and for those below the age of 60, the number goes down to 16%!). Dependant upon whose data you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from neglected hearing loss; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, they neglect seeking treatment for loss of hearing for a variety of reasons. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing tested, even though they said they suffered from hearing loss, let alone sought additional treatment. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just part of getting older. Hearing loss has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but thanks to the significant improvements that have been accomplished in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable situation. Significantly, more than only your hearing can be improved by treating loss of hearing, according to an increasing body of data.
A recent study from a Columbia research team links depression and hearing loss adding to the body of knowledge.
They give each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assess them for symptoms of depression. After a range of variables are taken into consideration, the analysts discovered that the odds of having clinically substantial symptoms of depression increased by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about as loud as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.
The general link isn’t astonishing but it is surprising how rapidly the odds of suffering from depression increase with only a little difference in sound. This new research adds to the considerable established 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 research from 2014 that found that both people who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have loss of hearing based on hearing exams had a considerably higher risk of depression.
The good news is: it isn’t a chemical or biological link that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social scenarios or even normal conversations. This can increase social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily disrupted.
A wide variety of studies have found that dealing with hearing loss, most often using hearing aids, can assist to alleviate symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that examined statistics from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors didn’t define a cause-and-effect connection since they were not observing data over time.
But other studies which followed individuals before and after using hearing aids bears out the proposal that treating hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Although only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 study, a total of 34, after only three months using hearing aids, according to the studies, all of them displayed significant improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The same outcome was found from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person six months out from starting to use hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, the vets were still suffering from fewer symptoms of depression.
Loss of hearing is hard, but you don’t have to go it alone. Contact us.