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

Did you realize that age-related loss of hearing impacts around one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and for those younger than 60, the number falls to 16%!). Depending on whose data you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from neglected loss of hearing; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

There are a number of justifications for why people may not seek treatment for loss of hearing, particularly as they grow older. (One study found that just 28% of people who said that they had loss of hearing had even had their hearing examined, and most did not look for further treatment. For some individuals, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, a normal part of getting older. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for some time, but currently, thanks to technological improvements, we can also manage it. Notably, more than only your hearing can be helped by treating loss of hearing, according to a growing body of research.

A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the literature connecting hearing loss and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing exam to each subject and also examine them for symptoms of depression. After a number of variables are taken into consideration, the analysts discovered that the odds of having clinically substantial signs of depression increased by approximately 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, roughly the same as the sound of leaves rustling.

It’s amazing that such a small change in hearing yields such a big increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. There is a large collection of literature on hearing loss and depression and this new study adds to that research, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing worsened in relation to a declining of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that found that both individuals who reported having trouble hearing and who were discovered to suffer from loss of hearing based on hearing tests had a considerably higher risk of depression.

The plus side is: the connection that researchers think is present between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social scenarios or even normal interactions. Social alienation 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 disrupted.

A wide variety of researchers have found that dealing with loss of hearing, typically with hearing aids, can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that examined statistics from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t focus on the data over time, they could not define a cause and effect connection.

But other studies which followed people before and after getting hearing aids re-affirms the hypothesis that dealing with loss of hearing can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, 34 people total, after just three months with hearing aids, according to the studies, they all showed significant improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact same outcome was discovered from even further out by another minor study from 2012, with every single person six months out from beginning to use hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to wear hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.

Hearing loss is tough, but you don’t have to go it by yourself. Call us.