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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 that figure drops to 16% for those under the age of 69!). Depending on whose data you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from untreated hearing loss; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

There are a variety of reasons why people might not get treatment for loss of hearing, specifically as they grow older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing tested, though they reported suffering from hearing loss, and the majority didn’t look for additional treatment. It’s just part of getting older, for many individuals, like grey hair or wrinkles. Hearing loss has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but thanks to the significant advancements that have been accomplished in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly treatable situation. That’s important because a growing body of data reveals that treating loss of hearing can improve more than just your hearing.

A recent study from a research team working from Columbia University, adds to the literature associating hearing loss and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing exam to each subject and also evaluate them for signs of depression. After a range of variables are considered, the analysts found that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression climbed by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as leaves rustling and is quieter than a whisper.

It’s surprising that such a little change in hearing produces such a big boost in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new research adds to the substantial existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health got worse alongside hearing loss, or this study from 2014 that revealed that both people who reported having difficulty hearing and who were discovered to have hearing loss based on hearing examinations had a considerably higher chance of depression.

Here’s the good news: it isn’t a biological or chemical connection that researchers think 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 scenarios or even normal conversations. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily disrupted.

The symptoms of depression can be minimized by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to a few studies. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were evaluated in a 2014 study that finding that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors didn’t determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t evaluating statistics over time.

However, the theory that treating hearing loss with hearing aids can help the symptoms of depression is born out by other research that analyzed individuals before and after getting hearing aids. Even though only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 research, 34 individuals total, the analysts found that after three months using hearing aids, all of them showed significant progress in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the 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 groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from loss of hearing were evaluated in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

You’re not by yourself in the difficult struggle with hearing loss. Get in touch with us for a hearing test today.

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