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

About half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related loss of hearing. But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and for those below the age of 60, the number drops to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans suffer from untreated hearing loss depending on what numbers you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

There are a number of reasons why people may not seek treatment for loss of hearing, particularly as they get older. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing tested, though they reported suffering from loss of hearing, let alone looked into additional treatment. For some folks, it’s just like grey hair or wrinkles, just part of getting older. Hearing loss has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but due to the substantial advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable situation. That’s important because a developing body of data shows that treating hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.

A recent study from a research team based at Columbia University, adds to the body of knowledge connecting loss of hearing and depression.
They examine each subject for depression and give them an audiometric hearing exam. After adjusting for a number of factors, the analysts found that the odds of having clinically substantial symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, about on par with the sound of rustling leaves.

The general link isn’t astonishing but it is striking how quickly the odds of suffering from depression increase with only a small difference in sound. There is a large body 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 mental health got worse alongside hearing loss, or this paper from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher chance of depression when they were either diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.

Here’s the good news: the connection that researchers surmise exists between loss of hearing and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social scenarios or even everyday interactions. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily disrupted.

A wide variety of researchers have found that managing hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can assist to reduce symptoms of depression. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that finding that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors didn’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking into statistics over time.

But other research that’s followed people before and after using hearing aids bears out the proposal that treating loss of hearing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although this 2011 study only investigated a small cluster of individuals, a total of 34, after only three months with hearing aids, according to the research, they all showed considerable improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another small-scale study from 2012 discovered the same outcomes even further out, with every single person six months out from beginning to wear hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who were suffering from loss of hearing 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.

You’re not alone in the difficult struggle with hearing loss. Contact us.

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