Audiology Specialty Clinic - Sioux Falls, SD

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

Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts around one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under 69!). At least 20 million Americans are afflicted by neglected loss of hearing depending on what stats you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, they overlook seeking treatment for hearing loss for a variety of considerations. (One study found that just 28% of people who reported that they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, and most did not seek out additional treatment. It’s simply part of aging, for some individuals, like wrinkles or grey hair. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for some time, but currently, thanks to technological developments, we can also manage 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 Columbia research group adds to the literature connecting loss of hearing and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing test to each subject and also evaluate them for symptoms of depression. After correcting for a range of factors, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically substantial signs or symptoms 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 about as loud as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.

It’s amazing that such a tiny change in hearing produces such a big boost in the odds of being affected by depression, but the basic link isn’t shocking. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss, or this paper from 2014 that revealed that both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to suffer from hearing loss based on hearing examinations had a considerably higher risk of depression.

Here’s the good news: the link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social scenarios or even everyday conversations. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a pattern that is easily disrupted despite the fact that it’s a horrible one.

The symptoms of depression can be minimized by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to several studies. 2014 research investigated data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors didn’t establish a cause-and-effect connection since they weren’t considering statistics over time.

But other research that’s followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids re-affirms the hypothesis that managing hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though this 2011 study only looked at a small group of individuals, a total of 34, after only three months using hearing aids, according to the research, they all displayed significant progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another small-scale study from 2012 discovered the same outcomes even further out, with every single individual six months out from beginning to wear hearing aids, were still experiencing 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, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

You’re not alone in the intense struggle with loss of hearing. Give us a call.

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