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

Did you know 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 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 under the age of 60, the number falls to 16%!). Dependant upon whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from neglected loss of hearing; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

As people grow older, they overlook getting treatment for loss of hearing for a number of considerations. (One study found that just 28% of people who reported they suffered from loss of hearing had even had their hearing examined, and the majority did not seek out additional treatment. For some people, 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 considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable situation. Significantly, more than only your hearing can be helped by treating hearing loss, according to an expanding body of data.

A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the body of knowledge connecting hearing loss and depression.
They assess each person for depression and administer an audiometric hearing examination. After adjusting for a range of factors, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically substantial signs 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 leaves rustling.

It’s amazing that such a small change in hearing generates such a large increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic connection isn’t shocking. This new research adds to the substantial established literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that hearing loss worsened in relation to a declining of mental health, or this study from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher risk of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

Here’s the plus side: it isn’t a biological or chemical link that researchers surmise exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Everyday conversations and social situations are often avoided due to anxiety due to problems hearing. This can increase social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is very easily broken even though it’s a horrible one.

The symptoms of depression can be relieved by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to a few studies. 2014 research looked at statistics from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that individuals 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 couldn’t determine a cause and effect connection.

Nevertheless, the theory that managing loss of hearing with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is backed up by other research that examined subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Although only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, a total of 34, the researchers found that after only three months with hearing aids, all of them revealed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another minor study from 2012 uncovered the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that examined a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still suffering from fewer symptoms of depression.

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