HEARING TIPS

Reduction in Depression Linked to Hearing Aids

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

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

As people get older, they neglect seeking treatment for hearing loss for a variety of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people who reported they had hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, let alone sought additional treatment. It’s just part of aging, for many individuals, like wrinkles or grey hair. It’s been possible to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but now, thanks to technological advancements, we can also treat it. Notably, more than just your hearing can be helped by managing hearing loss, according to an increasing body of research.

A recent study from a research group based at Columbia University, adds to the literature linking loss of hearing and depression.
They evaluate each subject for depression and give them an audiometric hearing test. After correcting for a number of variables, the analysts discovered that the odds of having clinically substantial signs of depression increased 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 as loud as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.

The general link isn’t shocking but it is surprising how rapidly the odds of suffering from depression go up with only a slight difference in sound. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that mental health worsened alongside hearing loss, or this paper from 2014 that found that both individuals who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to suffer from hearing loss based on hearing exams had a considerably higher risk of depression.

The good news is: the connection that researchers think is present between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social scenarios or even everyday interactions. Social isolation 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 relieved by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were evaluated in a 2014 study that finding that those who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, though the writers didn’t determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t evaluating data over time.

But other research that’s followed individuals before and after using hearing aids re-affirms the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Even though this 2011 study only investigated a small group of individuals, a total of 34, after only three months with hearing aids, according to the studies, all of them revealed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the exact same results even further out, with every single person in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months prior to starting to wear hearing aids. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from hearing loss were evaluated in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.

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