Coastal Hearing Aid Center - Encinitas, CA

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 suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans are dealing with neglected loss of hearing depending on what numbers you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, they neglect getting treatment for hearing loss for a variety of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing checked, though they said they suffered from hearing loss, and the majority didn’t seek further treatment. It’s just part of growing old, for some individuals, like wrinkles or grey hair. Loss of hearing has long been easy to diagnose, but due to the substantial developments that have been accomplished in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable situation. That’s significant because a growing body of research 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 associating hearing loss and depression.
They examine each participant for depression and administer an audiometric hearing examination. After a number of variables are taken into account, the analysts found that the odds of having clinically substantial symptoms 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 quieter than a whisper, about on par with the sound of rustling leaves.

The general link isn’t astonishing but it is surprising how quickly the odds of suffering from depression go up with only a little difference in sound. This new research adds to the considerable existing literature linking loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health got worse alongside hearing loss, or this research from 2014 that people had a considerably higher risk of depression when they were either diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

Here’s the plus side: it isn’t a biological or chemical connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even normal conversations. Social alienation can be the result, 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 relieved by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to several studies. A 2014 study that investigated data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t focus on the data over a period of time, they could not determine a cause and effect relationship.

But other studies which followed participants before and after using hearing aids re-affirms the proposal that managing hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Even though only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 study, a total of 34, the researchers discovered that after three months using hearing aids, they all displayed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 discovered the exact same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that examined a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

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