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

Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts roughly one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and for those younger than 60, the number goes down to 16%!). Dependant upon whose numbers 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 seeking treatment for hearing loss for a variety of reasons. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing tested, even though they reported suffering from hearing loss, and the majority did not seek out additional treatment. For some people, it’s just like wrinkles or gray hair, just part of growing old. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial developments that have been accomplished in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly manageable situation. That’s important because a growing body of data shows that treating hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.

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

It’s surprising that such a tiny difference in hearing creates such a big increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. There is a large collection 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 got worse in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this study from 2014 that found that both people who reported having problems hearing and who were found to suffer from loss of hearing based on hearing examinations had a substantially higher risk of depression.

Here’s the good news: it isn’t a chemical or biological connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even normal interactions. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is very easily disrupted even though it’s a horrible one.

Numerous researchers have found that treating loss of hearing, typically with hearing aids, can assist to alleviate symptoms of depression. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that discovered 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 examine the data over a period of time, they couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship.

But other studies which followed people before and after using hearing aids bears out the hypothesis that managing loss of hearing can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though this 2011 study only evaluated a small cluster of individuals, a total of 34, after only three months using hearing aids, according to the studies, all of them revealed significant progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the exact same results even further out, with every single person six months out from starting to wear hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from loss of hearing were evaluated in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

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

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

Main Line Audiology Consultants, PC