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

Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related hearing loss. But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from loss of hearing have ever had hearing aids (and for those younger than 60, the number drops to 16%!). Dependant upon whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from neglected loss of hearing; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, they overlook seeking treatment for loss of hearing for a number of reasons. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing tested, even though they said they suffered from hearing loss, and most didn’t look for additional treatment. For some people, it’s just like wrinkles or gray hair, a normal part of growing old. It’s been possible to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but currently, due to technological improvements, we can also deal with it. That’s relevant because a growing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.

A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the literature associating loss of hearing and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing examination to each subject and also evaluate them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a range of factors, the researchers discovered that the odds of having clinically significant signs or symptoms of depression climbed by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, approximately the same as the sound of rustling leaves.

It’s surprising that such a small change in hearing produces such a big increase in the odds of being affected by depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. There is a large collection of literature on hearing loss and depression and this new study adds to that research, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that hearing loss worsened in relation to a declining of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that revealed that both people who reported having difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing exams had a significantly higher risk of depression.

Here’s the plus side: the link that researchers think is present between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even normal conversations. Social alienation 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 quickly broken.

The symptoms of depression can be minimized by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. 2014 research investigated data from over 1,000 people in their 70s revealing that those who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t analyze the data over time, they couldn’t determine a cause and effect connection.

Nonetheless, the concept that treating hearing loss with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is born out by other research that looked at subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Although this 2011 study only investigated a small cluster of individuals, 34 people total, after just three months using hearing aids, according to the research, they all revealed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the exact same results even further out, with every single individual six months out from starting to use hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from loss of hearing were evaluated 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.

Loss of hearing is tough, but you don’t need to go it by yourself. Contact us.