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

About half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are affected by age related hearing loss. But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and for those under the age of 60, the number goes down to 16%!). Depending on whose data you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from untreated loss of hearing; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, they overlook seeking treatment for hearing loss for a number of reasons. (One study found that just 28% of people who reported they suffered from loss of hearing had even gotten their hearing checked, much less looked into further treatment. It’s just part of growing old, for many people, like wrinkles or grey hair. Loss of hearing has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial improvements that have been accomplished in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable situation. That’s important because a growing body of research shows that treating loss of hearing can improve more than just your hearing.

A recent study from a research group based at Columbia University, links loss of hearing and depression adding to the body of knowledge.
They give each participant an audiometric hearing test and also assess them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers discovered that the odds of having clinically significant signs of depression climbed by around 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, roughly the same as the sound of rustling leaves.

It’s surprising that such a small change in hearing produces such a large boost in the odds of being affected by depression, but the basic link isn’t shocking. 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 hearing loss worsened in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this study from 2014 that found that both individuals who self-reported problems hearing and who were discovered to have loss of hearing based on hearing examinations had a substantially higher chance of depression.

Here’s the good news: it isn’t a biological or chemical connection that researchers think exists between depression and hearing loss, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social scenarios or even everyday conversations. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a pattern that is easily broken even though it’s a horrible one.

The symptoms of depression can be reduced by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to a few studies. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that finding that those who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the writers did not determine a cause-and-effect connection since they were not observing data over time.

Nonetheless, the concept that managing loss of hearing with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is backed up by other studies that evaluated individuals before and after using hearing aids. Even though only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 study, a total of 34, after only three months with hearing aids, according to the research, all of them showed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 uncovered the same outcomes even further out, with every single individual six months out from starting to wear hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were examined in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

You’re not by yourself in the difficult struggle with loss of hearing. Contact us.

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