Cedar Audiology Associates - Cleveland, OH

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

Did you know that age-related loss of hearing affects roughly one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are 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 figure goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans suffer from untreated loss of hearing depending on what data you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

As people grow older, they overlook seeking treatment for loss of hearing for a number of reasons. (One study found that just 28% of people who said that they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, let alone looked into further treatment. For some folks, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just part of growing old. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for some time, but currently, thanks to technological developments, we can also treat it. Notably, more than only your hearing can be helped by managing loss of hearing, according to a growing body of research.

A recent study from a research group working from Columbia University, adds to the body of knowledge connecting loss of hearing and depression.
They give each participant an audiometric hearing test and also examine them for symptoms of depression. After a number of variables are taken into account, the analysts found that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression climbed by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. 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 little difference in hearing generates such a large increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic link isn’t shocking. There is a large collection of literature on depression and hearing loss and this new study adds to that research, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that hearing loss got worse in relation to a declining of mental health, or this study from 2014 that people had a significantly higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.

Here’s the good news: it isn’t a biological or chemical connection that researchers suspect exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Everyday conversations and social scenarios are often avoided due to anxiety over difficulty hearing. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a pattern that is very easily broken even though it’s a horrible one.

A wide variety of studies have found that dealing with hearing loss, usually using hearing aids, can assist to reduce symptoms of depression. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that discovered that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, though the writers didn’t define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not looking at statistics over time.

Nonetheless, the theory that dealing with loss of hearing with hearing aids can ease the symptoms of depression is backed up by other studies that evaluated subjects before and after using hearing aids. Even though this 2011 study only evaluated a small cluster of people, a total of 34, the researchers discovered that after three months using hearing aids, they all displayed considerable progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact same result was found from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person six months out from starting to wear hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. And in a study originating in 1992 that looked at a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

You’re not by yourself in the intense struggle with hearing loss. Get in touch with us for a hearing exam today.

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