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

Did you realize that age-related loss of hearing affects around 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 used hearing aids (and for those under 60, the number falls to 16%!). Depending on whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from neglected loss of hearing; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

As people grow older, they neglect getting treatment for loss of hearing for a number of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported that they had loss of hearing had even had their hearing checked, let alone looked into further treatment. It’s simply part of the aging process, for some individuals, like grey hair or wrinkles. It’s been easy to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but now, due to technological developments, we can also manage it. That’s significant because a growing body of research reveals that treating hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.

A recent study from a research team based at Columbia University, adds to the literature associating hearing loss and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing examination to each subject and also evaluate them for symptoms of depression. After correcting for a range of variables, the analysts discovered that the odds of showing clinically substantial signs of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about as loud as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.

It’s amazing that such a small change in hearing creates such a large increase in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health got worse along with hearing loss, or this research from 2014 that found that both individuals who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to suffer from loss of hearing based on hearing exams had a significantly higher risk of depression.

Here’s the good news: the connection that researchers think exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Everyday conversations and social situations are generally 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 easily disrupted.

A wide variety of researchers have found that dealing with loss of hearing, most often with hearing aids, can assist to reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s finding that people who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t examine the data over time, they could not determine a cause and effect connection.

Nevertheless, the concept that managing loss of hearing with hearing aids can help the symptoms of depression is born out by other studies that evaluated subjects before and after using hearing aids. Though this 2011 study only investigated a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers discovered that after only three months with hearing aids, they all revealed considerable improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact same result was discovered from even further out by another minor study from 2012, with every single person in the small sample continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. Large groups of U.S. veterans who were suffering from loss of hearing were examined in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.

Loss of hearing is tough, but you don’t have to experience it alone. Give us a call.

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