Woman embracing man with hearing loss in park because he is feeling depressed.

Are you aware that about one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing loss and half of them are over 75? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for people under the age of 69! Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals dealing with neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, there might be numerous reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the process of aging. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable condition. That’s important because an increasing body of research demonstrates that managing hearing loss can help more than your hearing.

A Columbia University research group conducted a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also assessing them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.

It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing generates such a significant increase in the chances of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new study expands the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. In another study, a considerably higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.

The good news: The relationship that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. In all likelihood, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social interaction or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.

Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did demonstrate that those people were much more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.

But other research, that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions and also mental function after using hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which showed ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a bigger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing reduced depression symptoms.

Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t have to go it alone. Get your hearing checked, and know about your solutions. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall quality of life.

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