HEARING TIPS

Reduction in Depression Connected to Hearing Aids

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 impacted by age related loss of hearing. But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and for those below the age of 60, the number drops to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans have untreated loss of hearing depending on what research you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

There are a number of reasons 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, much less sought further treatment. For some individuals, it’s the same as getting wrinkles or gray hair, a normal part of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable developments that have been accomplished in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. That’s important because a developing body of research reveals that treating hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.

A recent study from a Columbia research team adds to the body of knowledge associating hearing loss and depression.
They evaluate each participant for depression and administer an audiometric hearing exam. After correcting for a number of variables, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically significant signs of depression increased 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, approximately on par with the sound of rustling leaves.

The general link isn’t shocking but it is surprising how fast the odds of getting depression go up with only a little difference in sound. This new research adds to the substantial existing literature linking loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing got worse in relation to a declining of mental health, or this research from 2014 that people had a significantly higher chance of depression when they were either diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

Here’s the plus side: it isn’t a biological or chemical connection that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Normal interactions and social situations are often avoided because of the anxiety due to difficulty hearing. This can intensify social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a cycle that is easily broken even though it’s a horrible one.

Numerous studies have found that dealing with hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can assist to lessen symptoms of depression. 2014 research investigated statistics from over 1,000 people in their 70s finding that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t consider the data over time, they couldn’t establish a cause and effect relationship.

But other research that’s followed people before and after using hearing aids re-affirms the proposal that treating hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 research, a total of 34, after just three months using hearing aids, according to the studies, all of them displayed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The same outcome was discovered from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single person six months out from beginning to use hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were evaluated in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, the vets were still suffering from fewer symptoms of depression.

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