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

Did you realize that age-related loss of hearing affects roughly 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 around 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans are afflicted by neglected loss of hearing depending on what statistics you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

There are a number of reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. (One study found that just 28% of people who reported that they suffered from loss of hearing had even gotten their hearing checked, and the majority didn’t look for additional treatment. For some folks, it’s the same as getting grey hair or wrinkles, just part of growing old. Loss of hearing has long been easy to diagnose, but due to the considerable improvements that have been accomplished in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable situation. Significantly, more than only your hearing can be improved by treating hearing loss, according to an expanding body of data.

A recent study from a research group working from Columbia University, connects depression and loss of hearing adding to the body of literature.
They assess each participant for depression and administer an audiometric hearing exam. After a range of variables are taken into consideration, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically substantial signs of depression climbed by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, about on par with the sound of rustling leaves.

It’s surprising that such a tiny difference in hearing produces such a big increase in the odds of being affected by depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new research adds to the considerable established literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing got worse in relation to a declining of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher risk of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

Here’s the plus side: it isn’t a biological or chemical link that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even normal conversations. Social isolation 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 quickly broken.

Several researchers have found that treating loss of hearing, typically using hearing aids, can assist to relieve symptoms of depression. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that finding that people who used hearing aids were significantly less 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 determine a cause and effect connection.

But other studies which followed participants before and after using hearing aids bears out the proposal that managing hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 research, 34 people total, the researchers discovered that after only three months using hearing aids, all of them revealed significant progress 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 individual in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who were suffering from hearing loss were evaluated in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

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