Hearing Health Blog

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

Did you know 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 suffer from loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69!). Dependant upon whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from neglected loss of hearing; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, they neglect getting treatment for hearing loss for a number of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing tested, even though they said they suffered from loss of hearing, much less looked into further treatment. For some individuals, it’s just like grey hair or wrinkles, a normal part of aging. It’s been possible to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but currently, due to technological developments, we can also manage it. That’s important because a developing body of research demonstrates that treating loss of hearing can help more than just your hearing.

A recent study from a research group working from Columbia University, adds to the literature linking hearing loss and depression.
They give each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assess them for symptoms of depression. After adjusting for a number of factors, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically significant signs of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, about the same as the sound of leaves rustling.

The basic connection isn’t astonishing but it is surprising how fast the odds of being affected by depression go up with only a little difference in sound. This new research adds to the substantial established literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that hearing loss worsened in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that revealed that both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were discovered to have hearing loss based on hearing exams had a significantly higher risk of depression.

The good news is: it isn’t a chemical or biological link that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Regular interactions and social scenarios are often avoided because of the anxiety due to problems hearing. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is very easily broken despite the fact that it’s a horrible one.

The symptoms of depression can be reduced by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that finding that those who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t analyze the data over a period of time, they couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship.

Nonetheless, the theory that treating hearing loss with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is backed up by other studies that analyzed individuals before and after using hearing aids. Although this 2011 study only evaluated a small cluster of people, 34 individuals total, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them showed considerable improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the exact same outcomes even further out, with every single person six months out from starting to wear hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groups of U.S. veterans who were suffering from hearing loss were examined in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still suffering from fewer symptoms of depression.

You’re not alone in the intense struggle with loss of hearing. Get in touch with us for a hearing test today.

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