Reduction in Depression Connected to Hearing Aids

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

Did you know that age-related hearing loss affects around one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and around half of those over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those under 69!). At least 20 million Americans suffer from neglected hearing loss depending on what numbers you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

There are a variety of reasons why people might not seek treatment for loss of hearing, specifically as they get older. (One study found that just 28% of people who said that they suffered from loss of hearing had even had their hearing examined, much less sought further treatment. For some folks, it’s just like grey hair or wrinkles, a normal part of getting older. It’s been easy to diagnose loss of hearing for a long time, but now, due to technological improvements, we can also manage it. Significantly, more than just your hearing can be improved by treating loss of hearing, according to an expanding body of data.

A recent study from a Columbia research group links hearing loss and depression adding to the body of literature.
They evaluate each person for depression and administer an audiometric hearing test. After correcting for a range of variables, the researchers discovered that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about as loud as leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.

The general connection isn’t shocking but it is striking how rapidly the odds of suffering from depression go up with only a little 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 study from 2014 that people had a significantly higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

The plus side is: the connection that researchers suspect exists between loss of hearing and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social scenarios or even everyday conversations. 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 quickly broken.

The symptoms of depression can be minimized 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 revealing that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t look at the data over time, they could not define a cause and effect connection.

Nonetheless, the principle that dealing with loss of hearing with hearing aids can help the symptoms of depression is born out by other studies that evaluated participants before and after getting hearing aids. Although only a small group of people was looked at in this 2011 research, 34 people total, after just three months with hearing aids, according to the research, all of them showed significant progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another minor study from 2012 discovered the exact same results even further out, with every single individual six months out from beginning to wear hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groups of U.S. veterans who were suffering from hearing loss were evaluated in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to experience it alone. Get in touch with us for a hearing examination today.

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