HEARING TIPS

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

Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts around one in three U.S. adults between 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under 69!). At least 20 million Americans are afflicted by neglected loss of hearing depending on what research you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

There are a number of justifications for why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. (One study found that just 28% of people who reported they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, let alone sought further treatment. For some individuals, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just part of growing old. Hearing loss has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly manageable condition. Notably, more than just your hearing can be helped by treating loss of hearing, according to an increasing body of data.

A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the literature associating loss of hearing and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing examination to each participant and also assess them for signs of depression. After a number of factors are considered, the researchers discovered that the odds of showing clinically substantial signs of depression climbed by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, about on par with the sound of rustling leaves.

It’s amazing that such a tiny change in hearing creates such a big boost in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. 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 worsened along with hearing loss, or this study from 2014 that people had a considerably higher chance of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

Here’s the plus side: it isn’t a chemical or biological connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Regular conversations and social situations are generally avoided because of the anxiety over difficulty hearing. Social isolation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a pattern that is very easily disrupted despite the fact that it’s a horrible one.

Numerous researchers have found that treating hearing loss, most often using hearing aids, can assist to relieve symptoms of depression. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were evaluated in a 2014 study that discovered that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the writers did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t observing statistics over time.

But other studies which followed participants before and after using hearing aids bears out the theory that managing hearing loss can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 study, 34 individuals total, the researchers discovered that after only three months with hearing aids, they all showed significant progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. The exact 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 wear hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. And in a study originating in 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss found that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

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