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

Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts around one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those under the age of 69!). At least 20 million Americans are suffering from untreated loss of hearing depending on what research you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

There are a number of reasons why people may not get treatment for loss of hearing, specifically as they grow older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing checked, though they said they suffered from loss of hearing, and most did not seek additional treatment. It’s simply part of growing old, for many individuals, like grey hair or wrinkles. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but due to the significant improvements that have been accomplished in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly manageable situation. That’s important because a developing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.

A recent study from a research team working from Columbia University, adds to the body of knowledge connecting loss of hearing and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing examination to each participant and also evaluate them for symptoms of depression. After correcting for a range of factors, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically substantial signs or symptoms of depression climbed by approximately 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 leaves rustling.

It’s amazing that such a little difference in hearing yields such a significant boost in the odds of being affected by depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. 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 loss of hearing worsened in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that people had a considerably higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

Here’s the plus side: the connection that researchers think exists between loss of hearing and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even normal interactions. This can increase social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s quickly disrupted.

The symptoms of depression can be alleviated by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to several studies. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that found that individuals 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 a period of time, they could not define a cause and effect connection.

But other studies which followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids bears out the theory that dealing with loss of hearing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 research, a total of 34, the researchers found that after three months using hearing aids, all of them displayed significant progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The exact 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 continuing to experience less depression. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss found that a full 12 months after beginning to wear hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.

You’re not by yourself in the difficult struggle with loss of hearing. Call us.