Hearing Aids Linked to a Reduction in Depression
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 hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and for those under the age of 60, the number falls to 16%!). Depending on whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from neglected loss of hearing; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of justifications for why people may not seek treatment for loss of hearing, specifically as they get older. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing checked, though they reported suffering from hearing loss, let alone sought additional treatment. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just part of aging. Loss of hearing has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the significant advancements that have been made in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly treatable situation. Notably, more than only your hearing can be helped by treating hearing loss, according to an expanding body of research.
A recent study from a Columbia research group connects depression and hearing loss adding to the body of knowledge.
They evaluate each participant for depression and administer an audiometric hearing examination. After adjusting for a number of factors, the analysts found that the odds of having clinically substantial signs or symptoms of depression climbed by about 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, about the same as the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic connection isn’t astonishing but it is surprising how fast the odds of suffering from depression increase with only a small difference in sound. 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 mental health got worse alongside hearing loss, or this paper from 2014 that people had a significantly higher risk of depression when they were either diagnosed with loss of hearing 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. Regular conversations and social situations are often avoided due to anxiety due to difficulty hearing. This can intensify social alienation, 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 reduced by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to a few studies. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that discovered that people who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t considered the data over time, they could not define a cause and effect connection.
But other research that’s followed individuals before and after using hearing aids re-affirms the theory that treating hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Although only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 research, a total of 34, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, they all showed significant progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 uncovered the exact same outcomes even further out, with every single person in the small sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months prior to starting to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to wear hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
You’re not alone in the difficult struggle with hearing loss. Contact us.