Hearing Assessment Center, LLC - Lutherville, Bel Air, and  Nottingham, MD

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

Did you realize that age-related loss of hearing impacts roughly one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and around half of those are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69!). Dependant upon whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from neglected hearing loss; 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 even had their hearing examined, though they said they suffered from loss of hearing, let alone looked into additional treatment. It’s just part of growing old, for many people, like grey hair or wrinkles. Loss of hearing has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable improvements that have been made in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly treatable condition. That’s important because an increasing 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 connecting hearing loss and depression.
They examine each person for depression and administer an audiometric hearing exam. After a number of variables are taken into consideration, the analysts found that the odds of having clinically significant signs or symptoms of depression increased by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about as loud as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.

The basic link isn’t astonishing but it is surprising how fast the odds of getting depression increase with only a small difference in sound. 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 mental health got worse along with hearing loss, or this research from 2014 that people had a considerably 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 connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Normal conversations and social situations are generally avoided due to anxiety over difficulty hearing. This can increase social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a horrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.

The symptoms of depression can be reduced by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that revealing that people who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, though the writers did not establish a cause-and-effect connection since they were not focusing on statistics over time.

But other studies which followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids bears out the proposal that dealing with loss of hearing can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though this 2011 study only checked a small group of people, 34 people total, the analysts found that after three months using hearing aids, they all displayed considerable progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The same outcome was discovered from even further out by another minor study from 2012, 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 originating in 1992 that observed a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to go it by yourself. Get in touch with us for a hearing test today.

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