Hearing Health Blog

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

Did you realize that age-related hearing loss affects 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 have hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and for those younger than 60, the number falls to 16%!). Dependant upon whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from untreated loss of hearing; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

There are a variety 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 reported that they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, and most didn’t seek additional treatment. It’s simply part of getting older, for many individuals, like grey hair or wrinkles. Hearing loss has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but thanks to the considerable improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable situation. Significantly, more than just your hearing can be helped by managing loss of hearing, according to a growing body of data.

A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the body of knowledge associating hearing loss and depression.
They examine each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing exam. After a range of variables are considered, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically significant signs or symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.

The basic link isn’t shocking but it is surprising how fast the odds of suffering from depression increase with only a slight difference in sound. This new research adds to the sizable existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss, or this research from 2014 that revealed that both people who reported having problems hearing and who were discovered to suffer from hearing loss based on hearing examinations had a considerably higher chance of depression.

The plus side is: it isn’t a chemical or biological link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Everyday interactions and social situations are often avoided because of the anxiety over difficulty 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 minimized by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to several studies. 2014 research examined data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s revealing 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 considered the data over a period of time, they could not define 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 assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though this 2011 study only investigated a small group of people, 34 individuals total, after just three months with hearing aids, according to the research, they all showed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The same result was discovered from even further out by another minor study from 2012, with every single individual six months out from beginning to use hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groups of U.S. veterans who were suffering from hearing loss were looked at in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

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