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

Did you know that age-related hearing loss affects roughly one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are over 75)? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which 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 could be a number of reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study revealed that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, never mind sought further treatment. Many people just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the aging process. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.

A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the literature linking hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they collected data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a host of variables. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.

The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so significantly raise the likelihood of suffering from depression. This new study expands the sizable existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher danger of depression.

Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a biological or chemical relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even day to day conversations. This can increase social separation, which further feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.

Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t establish a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did show that those individuals were much more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.

But other research, that observed subjects before and after using hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. Only 34 people were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms 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 demonstrated ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full year after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.

Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Find out what your options are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall quality of life.

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