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

Did you realize that age-related loss of hearing 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 have loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and for those younger than 60, the number drops to 16%!). At least 20 million Americans are afflicted by untreated hearing loss depending on what research you look at; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

There are a variety of justifications for why people may not get treatment for loss of hearing, specifically as they get older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing tested, even though they said they suffered from loss of hearing, much less sought further 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 significant developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable situation. Significantly, more than just your hearing can be improved by managing loss of hearing, according to an increasing body of research.

A recent study from a research team working from Columbia University, adds to the body of knowledge linking hearing loss and depression.
They give each participant an audiometric hearing test and also evaluate them for symptoms of depression. After a range of variables are taken into consideration, the analysts found that the odds of having clinically significant signs of depression climbed by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about as loud as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.

It’s surprising that such a little change in hearing produces such a large boost in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t shocking. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature connecting loss of hearing and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss, or this paper from 2014 that people had a significantly higher risk of depression when they were either diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

Here’s the good news: it isn’t a chemical or biological connection that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday interactions. This can intensify social isolation, 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 vicious one.

Several researchers have found that managing loss of hearing, most often with hearing aids, can assist to relieve symptoms of depression. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that discovered that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t examine the data over time, they could not pinpoint a cause and effect relationship.

But other research that’s followed individuals before and after getting hearing aids bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Although this 2011 study only checked a small cluster of individuals, a total of 34, the researchers found that after only three months with hearing aids, all of them showed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another minor study from 2012 revealed the exact same results even further out, with every single individual 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 use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

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

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