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

Did you realize that age-related loss of hearing impacts around one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and around half of those are over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who have hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under 69!). Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from untreated loss of hearing; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

As people grow older, they overlook getting treatment for hearing loss for a variety of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported that they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, and most did not look for further treatment. It’s just part of aging, for many people, like grey hair or wrinkles. Loss of hearing has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but due to the considerable developments that have been accomplished in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly manageable situation. That’s significant because a developing body of data shows that treating loss of hearing can improve more than just your hearing.

A recent study from a research team working from Columbia University, adds to the body of knowledge connecting loss of hearing and depression.
They give each participant an audiometric hearing exam and also examine them for signs of depression. After correcting for a number of factors, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically significant signs or symptoms of depression increased by around 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, approximately on par with the sound of leaves rustling.

It’s amazing that such a little difference in hearing produces such a big increase in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic connection isn’t shocking. This new research adds to the substantial established literature linking loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health worsened alongside hearing loss, or this study from 2014 that people had a considerably higher chance of depression when they were either diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

The good news is: the link that researchers suspect exists between loss of hearing and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even normal interactions. 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 hearing loss, usually using hearing aids, can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. 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 evaluate the data over time, they couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship.

Nevertheless, the concept that treating loss of hearing with hearing aids can ease the symptoms of depression is backed up by other studies that examined participants before and after getting hearing aids. Although only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 research, 34 individuals total, the researchers discovered that after only three months with hearing aids, all of them showed considerable improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another small-scale study from 2012 discovered the same results even further out, with every single person in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months prior to beginning to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to go it alone. Contact us.