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HEARING TIPS

Reduction in Depression Connected to Hearing Aids

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

Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts roughly one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and around half of those over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and that figure drops to 16% for those under the age of 69!). Depending on whose figures you look at, there are at least 20 million Americans who suffer from untreated hearing loss; though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

There are a number of justifications for why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. (One study found that just 28% of people even had their hearing examined, even though they reported suffering from loss of hearing, let alone sought additional treatment. It’s simply part of getting older, for some people, like grey hair or wrinkles. It’s been possible to diagnose hearing loss for some time, but now, due to technological developments, we can also deal with it. That’s important because a growing body of research shows that treating loss of hearing can help more than your hearing.

A recent study from a research team based at Columbia University, adds to the literature linking hearing loss and depression.
They administer an audiometric hearing examination to each subject and also assess them for signs of depression. After a range of variables are considered, the analysts discovered that the odds of having clinically substantial signs 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 quieter than a whisper, about the same as the sound of leaves rustling.

The general connection isn’t astonishing but it is surprising how fast the odds of getting depression increase with only a small difference in sound. 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 loss of hearing worsened in relation to a worsening of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that people had a considerably higher risk of depression when they were either clinically diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

The plus side is: the link that researchers surmise exists between loss of hearing and depression isn’t chemical or biological, it’s social. Everyday interactions and social scenarios are generally avoided because of the anxiety due to difficulty hearing. This can increase social alienation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.

The symptoms of depression can be alleviated by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to several studies. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were looked at in a 2014 study that finding that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the writers didn’t establish a cause-and-effect connection since they were not focusing on data over time.

But other studies which followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids re-affirms the theory that dealing with loss of hearing can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Even though only a small cross section of people was looked at in this 2011 research, 34 subjects total, the analysts discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them showed considerable progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another minor study from 2012 revealed the exact same results even further out, with every single individual in the small sample continuing to have the symptoms of less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that examined a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing found that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

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