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

Did you realize that age-related hearing loss affects roughly 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 around 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and for those under the age of 60, the number falls to 16%!). Dependant upon whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from neglected hearing loss; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

There are a number of reasons why people may not get treatment for loss of hearing, specifically as they grow older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing examined, though they reported suffering from hearing loss, and most did not seek out additional treatment. For some folks, it’s just like grey hair or wrinkles, a normal part of aging. It’s been possible to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but now, due to technological improvements, we can also deal with it. That’s significant because a developing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.

A recent study from a Columbia research team adds to the body of knowledge connecting loss of hearing and depression.
They assess each person for depression and administer an audiometric hearing examination. After correcting for a range of variables, the analysts found that the odds of showing clinically significant signs of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, roughly the same as the sound of leaves rustling.

It’s amazing that such a little difference in hearing generates such a big increase in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic connection isn’t shocking. 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 got worse alongside hearing loss, or this study from 2014 that found that both people who reported having trouble hearing and who were discovered to suffer from hearing loss based on hearing exams had a substantially higher risk of depression.

The plus side is: it isn’t a chemical or biological link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression, it’s social. Normal conversations and social scenarios are often avoided because of the anxiety due to difficulty hearing. This can increase social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a pattern that is easily broken despite the fact that it’s a vicious one.

The symptoms of depression can be relieved by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. A 2014 study that examined data from over 1,000 people in their 70s finding that people who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to have symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t analyze 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 bears out 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 study, a total of 34, the analysts found that after three months using hearing aids, they all revealed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The exact same outcome was discovered from even further out by another minor study from 2012, with every single individual in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months prior to starting to use hearing aids. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who suffered from loss of hearing were looked at in a 1992 study that discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still suffering from fewer symptoms of depression.

Loss of hearing is hard, but you don’t have to go it by yourself. Get in touch with us for a hearing examination today.

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