Eastside Audiology - Issaquah, WA Eastside Audiology - Issaquah, WA

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

Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related loss of hearing. But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and for those below the age of 60, the number falls to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans have neglected hearing loss depending on what statistics you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, they neglect seeking treatment for hearing loss for a number of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people who said that they had loss of hearing had even had their hearing examined, and the majority did not look for further treatment. It’s simply part of the aging process, for many people, like wrinkles or grey hair. It’s been possible to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but now, due to technological improvements, we can also manage it. Notably, more than just your hearing can be helped by treating loss of hearing, according to an expanding body of data.

A recent study from a research team based at Columbia University, adds to the body of knowledge connecting hearing loss and depression.
They evaluate each person for depression and administer an audiometric hearing examination. After correcting for a range of variables, the analysts discovered that the odds of having clinically significant signs or symptoms of depression climbed by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.

The basic link isn’t shocking but it is surprising how fast the odds of suffering from depression increase with only a small difference in sound. 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 worsening of mental health, or this research from 2014 that found that both individuals who reported having trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing examinations had a significantly higher chance of depression.

The good news is: it isn’t a chemical or biological connection that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social scenarios or even everyday interactions. This can intensify social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is very easily broken even though it’s a horrible one.

The symptoms of depression can be reduced by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to a few studies. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that discovered that people who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t focus on the data over time, they couldn’t pinpoint a cause and effect relationship.

Nevertheless, the principle that treating hearing loss with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is born out by other studies that evaluated individuals before and after getting hearing aids. Although only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 study, 34 subjects total, after only three months with hearing aids, according to the studies, all of them displayed significant progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The same outcome was discovered from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single individual in the sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months prior to starting to use hearing aids. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were examined 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.

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