Hearing Health Blog

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 the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of older Americans who have loss of hearing have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those under 69!). At least 20 million Americans are afflicted by neglected loss of hearing depending on what research you look at; though some reports put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, they overlook getting treatment for loss of hearing for a variety of reasons. (One study found that only 28% of people even had their hearing examined, though they said they suffered from hearing loss, and most did not look for additional treatment. For some people, it’s the same as getting grey hair or wrinkles, a normal part of getting older. It’s been easy to diagnose hearing loss for a long time, but now, thanks to technological developments, we can also manage it. n\Notably, more than just your hearing can be improved by managing hearing loss, according to an expanding body of data.

A recent study from a Columbia research team connects hearing loss and depression adding to the body of literature.
They examine each person for depression and give them an audiometric hearing test. After a range of factors are taken into account, the researchers discovered that the odds of having clinically significant signs of depression climbed by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s quieter than a whisper, approximately on par with the sound of rustling leaves.

It’s amazing that such a slight change in hearing produces such a big boost in the odds of experiencing depression, but the basic connection isn’t shocking. There is a large collection of literature on depression and hearing loss and this new study adds to that research, like this multi-year analysis from 2000 which found that loss of hearing got worse in relation to a declining of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that people had a considerably higher risk of depression when they were either diagnosed with loss of hearing or self reported it.

Here’s the good news: the connection that researchers suspect is present 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 due to problems 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 quickly disrupted.

Numerous studies have found that dealing with loss of hearing, typically using hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. 2014 research looked at statistics from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s revealing that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to have symptoms of depression, but due to the fact that the authors didn’t examine the data over time, they could not determine a cause and effect connection.

Nevertheless, the concept that dealing with hearing loss with hearing aids can relieve the symptoms of depression is backed up by other studies that looked at subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Even though this 2011 study only evaluated a small cluster of people, a total of 34, the analysts discovered that after only three months using hearing aids, they all revealed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same outcomes even further out, with every single individual six months out from beginning to use hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. And in a study originating in 1992 that observed a larger cluster of U.S. military veterans suffering from loss of hearing discovered that a full 12 months after starting to wear hearing aids, fewer symptoms of depression were experienced by the vets.

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