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 affected by hearing loss and half of them are older than 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69! At least 20 million people cope with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.

As people get older, there could be several reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study determined that only 28% of people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, never mind sought further treatment. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. Managing hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with improvements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the situation now. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health hazard linked to hearing loss.

A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the documentation connecting hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 people that they gathered data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the likelihood of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a range of variables. 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 produces such a significant increase in the odds of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss worsens is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a sizable body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.

The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a chemical or biological connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. In all likelihood, it’s social. People who have hearing loss will often avoid social situations because of anxiety and will even often feel anxious about normal day-to-day situations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.

Multiple studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to decrease symptoms of depression. 1.000 people in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did demonstrate that those individuals were far more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.

But the theory that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is bolstered by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were assessed 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. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to wear hearing aids. And even a full year after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from symptoms of depression.

Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing examined, and know about your options. It could benefit more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.

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