Untreated hearing loss effects much more than our ability to hear. Untreated hearing loss can permeate into almost all aspects of our lives and can negatively affect our relationships with friends and family, our health and safety, and even our work productivity and earning potential. On top of this, untreated hearing loss has also been correlated with an increased risk for depression and anxiety. Depression can lead to social isolation and about 80% of people with depression report difficulties with work, home and social activities because of their symptoms (cdc.gov).
Depression and Hearing Loss
For at least a decade, a link between hearing loss and an increased risk for depression has been known in the scientific community. Various studies have all concluded similar results: those with untreated hearing loss are more likely to experience depression or depressive symptoms.
One of the most well-known studies was conducted by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders and published in 2014. The research concluded that the prevalence of depression amongst participants with hearing loss was almost double the rate of depression amongst those without hearing issues (view study). The exact reason for this cause and effect relationship is unknown, however, other experts in the field were not surprised by these findings. James Firman, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging said of the study, “People with hearing loss, especially those who don’t use hearing aids, find it more difficult to communicate with other people, whether in family situations, social gatherings or at work.” (view study).
It’s not difficult to understand how untreated hearing loss could easily lead to depression. With untreated hearing loss, everyday conversations with those we love can become difficult and frustrating. When conversing becomes a chore, we are less likely to seek out conversations and connect with others. A lack of genuine human connection and relationships has long been a known risk factor for depression. Bottom line, quality human connections keep us happier, and quality human connections are made much more difficult with untreated hearing loss.
Hearing Aids Improve Depressive Symptoms
Luckily, there is hope. While there is no doubt that untreated hearing loss increases the risk for depression, research has also concluded that the use of hearing aids can help to mitigate these negative effects. Researchers out of John Hopkins School of Medicine conducted a study to determine if hearing aid or cochlear implant use had an effect on depressive symptoms six and twelve months after starting intervention. The study included 113 participants over the age of 50 who were found to have hearing loss to a degree that required intervention with hearing aids or cochlear implants. The participants were given the 15-point Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) survey that is commonly used to determine depressive symptoms in the geriatric population. The study was given before intervention, and at six and twelve months after beginning treatment. The results were astonishing. It was found that amongst the hearing aid users, depressive symptoms were decreased by 28% after six months of treatment and 16% at twelve months of treatment. For those fitted with cochlear implants, depressive symptoms were decreased by 31% at six months and 38% at twelve months. (view study).
Follow-up research and studies are likely to follow this one, and will hopefully discover similar results regarding the positive impact of hearing aid use on depressive symptoms.
Have You Noticed Changes in Your Hearing or Mood?
If you’ve recently noticed some changes in your hearing or mood or the hearing or mood of someone you love, it may be time to schedule your first hearing screen. On average, Americans wait about seven years from the time they first notice changes in their hearing to the time they seek treatment from a professional. Seven years of missed connections with those you love and increased risk for depression can really take its toll. If you or someone you love do suffer from hearing loss – treating this loss with hearing aids can greatly improve your quality of life in almost all areas – including happiness and mood.