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

Around half of those over 70 and one in three U.S. adults are impacted by age related hearing loss. But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who suffer from loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and for those below the age of 60, the number falls to 16%!). Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans suffering from neglected hearing loss; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, they overlook seeking treatment for loss of hearing for a number of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing checked, though they said they suffered from loss of hearing, and the majority didn’t seek additional treatment. It’s just part of growing old, for some individuals, like wrinkles or grey hair. It’s been easy to diagnose hearing loss for some time, but now, thanks to technological improvements, we can also manage it. Significantly, more than only your hearing can be improved by managing loss of hearing, according to an expanding body of data.

A recent study from a research team based at Columbia University, adds to the body of knowledge associating hearing loss and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing examination to each subject and also evaluate them for signs of depression. After a number of variables are taken into consideration, the analysts discovered that the odds of showing clinically substantial signs or symptoms of depression climbed by approximately 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, about the same as the sound of rustling leaves.

The basic link isn’t shocking but it is striking how fast the odds of suffering from depression go up with only a little difference in sound. There is a large body 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 hearing loss worsened in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this research from 2014 that people had a significantly higher risk of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.

Here’s the good news: the link that researchers think exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Everyday interactions and social situations are generally avoided due to anxiety due to difficulty hearing. This can intensify social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s quickly broken.

The symptoms of depression can be reduced by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to a few studies. Over 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that revealing that those who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t focus on the data over a period of time, they could not pinpoint a cause and effect relationship.

Nevertheless, the theory that managing loss of hearing with hearing aids can ease the symptoms of depression is backed up by other research that examined participants before and after getting hearing aids. Although only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 research, a total of 34, the analysts found that after only three months using hearing aids, they all showed considerable improvement in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another minor study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. Large groups of U.S. veterans who were suffering from hearing loss were examined in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after beginning to wear hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.

Loss of hearing is tough, but you don’t have to go it alone. Get in touch with us for a hearing exam today.

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