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

Are you aware that about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many individuals are impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people dealing with neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, there could be numerous reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study determined that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, let alone sought further treatment. For some folks, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the situation anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk associated with hearing loss.

A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the literature relating hearing loss and depression. They collected data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for signs of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host of variables. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.

It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing generates such a large increase in the likelihood of suffering from depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a substantial body of literature connecting the two. In another study, a considerably higher risk of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.

Here’s the good news: The connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s probably social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.

Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to several studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 individuals in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.

But other research, which observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were examined in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in depression symptoms and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which demonstrated continuing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used 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 beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.

Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing tested, and learn about your solutions. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.

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