HEARING TIPS

Hearing Aids Connected to a Decrease in Depression

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 loss of hearing. But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that figure goes down to 16% for those under 69!). Dependant upon whose figures 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 justifications for why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing examined, though they reported suffering from hearing loss, let alone sought further treatment. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, a normal part of growing old. It’s been possible to diagnose loss of hearing for some time, but now, thanks to technological advancements, we can also treat it. That’s significant because a developing body of data reveals that treating loss of hearing can help more than just your hearing.

A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the literature associating loss of hearing and depression.
They assess each subject for depression and give them an audiometric hearing exam. After adjusting for a number of variables, the researchers discovered that the odds of having clinically significant signs or symptoms of depression increased by around 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, approximately on par with the sound of leaves rustling.

It’s surprising that such a small change in hearing yields such a significant increase in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. 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 worsened alongside hearing loss, or this paper from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher chance of depression when they were either diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

The good news is: the link that researchers think exists between loss of hearing and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Normal conversations and social situations are generally avoided due to anxiety over difficulty hearing. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a horrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily disrupted.

The symptoms of depression can be relieved by treating hearing loss with hearing aids according to several studies. A 2014 study that investigated data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s finding that people who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t look at the data over time, they couldn’t establish a cause and effect connection.

However, the theory that managing hearing loss with hearing aids can help the symptoms of depression is backed up by other studies that evaluated individuals before and after using hearing aids. Even though this 2011 study only checked a small group of individuals, a total of 34, the analysts discovered that after only three months using hearing aids, they all displayed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. The same outcome was found from even further out by another small scale study from 2012, with every single individual six months out from starting to wear hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groupings of U.S. veterans who were suffering from hearing loss were examined 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.

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