Man isolated and depressed in a cafe because he has hearing loss.

Did you know that age-related loss of hearing affects around one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those under the age of 69!). Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from neglected hearing loss; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

There are a number of justifications for why people may not seek treatment for loss of hearing, particularly as they get older. (One study found that only 28% of people who said they had loss of hearing had even gotten their hearing checked, and the majority did not seek further treatment. It’s simply part of getting older, for many individuals, like wrinkles or grey hair. It’s been possible to diagnose loss of hearing for a long time, but now, thanks to technological advancements, we can also treat it. That’s significant because a growing body of data reveals that treating loss of hearing can help more than your hearing.

A recent study from a research team working from Columbia University, connects hearing loss and depression adding to the body of knowledge.
They administer an audiometric hearing test to each subject and also examine them for symptoms of depression. After a range of variables are considered, the researchers discovered that the odds of showing clinically significant signs of depression climbed by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, roughly on par with the sound of leaves rustling.

The general link isn’t astonishing but it is striking how quickly the odds of being affected by depression increase with only a little 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 research from 2014 that people had a significantly higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

Here’s the good news: it isn’t a biological or chemical link that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Everyday interactions and social scenarios are generally avoided due to anxiety due to difficulty hearing. This can intensify social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is easily broken despite the fact that it’s a vicious one.

The symptoms of depression can be minimized by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to several studies. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that revealing that individuals 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 couldn’t establish a cause and effect relationship.

Nevertheless, the theory that managing hearing loss with hearing aids can ease the symptoms of depression is backed up by other studies that evaluated subjects before and after using hearing aids. Though this 2011 study only examined a small cluster of individuals, 34 individuals total, after just three months using hearing aids, according to the research, all of them showed considerable progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the exact same outcomes even further out, with every single person six months out from starting to use hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. Large groups 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, the vets were still suffering from fewer symptoms of depression.

You’re not by yourself in the difficult struggle with loss of hearing. Get in touch with us for a hearing assessment today.

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