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

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

As people grow older, they neglect getting treatment for hearing loss for a variety of considerations. (One study found that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing checked, and the majority didn’t seek out additional treatment. It’s just part of growing old, for some people, like grey hair or wrinkles. Hearing loss has been easy to diagnose for a long time, but thanks to the significant developments that have been accomplished in the technology of hearing aids, it’s also a highly manageable situation. Notably, more than only your hearing can be improved by managing hearing loss, according to an increasing body of research.

A recent study from a research team based at Columbia University, links depression and loss of hearing adding to the body of knowledge.
They give each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also assess them for signs of depression. After a range of factors are taken into account, the researchers found that the odds of showing clinically substantial symptoms of depression climbed by approximately 45% for every 20-decibel increase in loss of hearing. And to be clear, 20 dB is very little noise. It’s about the same as rustling leaves and is quieter than a whisper.

It’s amazing that such a slight change in hearing yields such a large 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 depression and hearing loss 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 declining of mental health, or this paper from 2014 that people had a dramatically higher risk of depression when they were either diagnosed with hearing loss or self reported it.

Here’s the plus side: the link that researchers suspect is present between loss of hearing and depression isn’t biological or chemical, it’s social. Problems hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday interactions. Social alienation can be the result, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a pattern that is easily broken despite the fact that it’s a vicious one.

The symptoms of depression can be reduced by treating loss of hearing with hearing aids according to a few studies. More than 1,000 people in their 70s were examined in a 2014 study that revealing that individuals who used hearing aids were significantly less more likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect connection since they were not observing statistics over time.

But other research that’s followed individuals before and after getting hearing aids bears out the proposal that dealing with loss of hearing can assist in alleviating symptoms of depression. Though this 2011 study only examined a small cluster of people, a total of 34, after just three months using hearing aids, according to the research, they all revealed considerable progress in both cognitive functioning and depressive symptoms. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single person six months out from beginning to wear hearing aids, were continuing to experience less depression. Large groups of U.S. veterans who suffered from loss of hearing were examined in a 1992 study that found that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still having fewer symptoms of depression.

You’re not alone in the intense struggle with loss of hearing. Get in touch with us for a hearing examination today.

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