Hearing Health Blog

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 affected by age related loss of hearing. But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss have ever had hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under 69!). Dependant upon whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from neglected hearing loss; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

There are a variety of reasons why people might not seek treatment for loss of hearing, especially as they get older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing examined, even though they said they suffered from hearing loss, let alone looked into further treatment. For some individuals, 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 currently, thanks to technological developments, we can also treat it. n\Notably, more than just your hearing can be helped by treating hearing loss, according to a growing body of data.

A recent study from a Columbia research group adds to the literature connecting hearing loss and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing test to each participant and also assess them for symptoms of depression. After a number of factors are considered, the researchers discovered that the odds of showing clinically substantial signs or symptoms of depression climbed by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 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 tiny change in hearing produces such a significant increase in the odds of being affected by 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 got worse along with hearing loss, or this study from 2014 that found that both individuals who self-reported problems hearing and who were discovered to have loss of hearing based on hearing exams had a substantially higher risk of depression.

The plus side is: the connection that researchers suspect exists between loss of hearing and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Everyday conversations and social scenarios are often avoided due to anxiety over problems hearing. This can intensify social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a horrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s quickly disrupted.

Several studies have found that managing loss of hearing, typically using hearing aids, can help to lessen symptoms of depression. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were evaluated in a 2014 study that revealing that those who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, but because the authors didn’t consider the data over a period of time, they couldn’t establish a cause and effect connection.

However, the theory that managing hearing loss with hearing aids can ease the symptoms of depression is backed up by other research that evaluated participants before and after getting hearing aids. Although this 2011 study only looked at a small cluster of individuals, 34 individuals total, the analysts discovered that after three months using hearing aids, all of them revealed considerable progress 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 six months out from starting to use hearing aids, were still experiencing less depression. Large groups of U.S. veterans who were suffering from loss of hearing were examined 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.

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