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

Did you realize that age-related loss of hearing impacts roughly 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 around 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that figure drops to 16% for those under 69!). Depending on whose numbers 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 grow older, they neglect seeking treatment for hearing loss for a variety of considerations. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing checked, though they reported suffering from hearing loss, and the majority didn’t seek additional treatment. For some individuals, it’s just like grey hair or wrinkles, just part of growing old. Loss of hearing has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but due to the substantial improvements that have been made in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly manageable situation. Significantly, more than only your hearing can be improved by treating loss of hearing, according to a growing body of data.

A recent study from a Columbia research team connects depression and loss of hearing adding to the body of knowledge.
They examine each participant for depression and give them an audiometric hearing exam. After a number of variables are taken into account, the researchers discovered that the odds of showing clinically substantial symptoms of depression climbed by approximately 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 leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.

It’s amazing that such a little difference in hearing creates such a large boost in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t shocking. This new study adds to the substantial established literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health worsened alongside hearing loss, or this research from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher risk 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 think exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Normal interactions and social situations are generally avoided because of the anxiety over difficulty hearing. 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 studies have found that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. 2014 research evaluated data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s revealing that people who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the writers did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t observing data over time.

However, the principle that treating hearing loss with hearing aids can ease the symptoms of depression is born out by other studies that looked at individuals before and after using hearing aids. Although only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, 34 people total, the analysts found that after three months using hearing aids, all of them showed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same outcomes even further out, with every single individual six months out from starting to use hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who suffered from loss of hearing were examined in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.

Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to experience it alone. Get in touch with us for a hearing test today.