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

Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts around one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of them are older than 75)? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under 69, that number drops to 16%. 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 may be a number of 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 additional treatment. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health hazard associated with hearing loss.

A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature linking hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they compiled data from. After correcting for a range of variables, the researchers revealed that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by about 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.

The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so significantly increase the probability of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a substantial body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher danger of depression.

The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s most likely social. Individuals with hearing loss will often avoid social situations due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather 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 studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t establish 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 experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.

But other research, that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated 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 wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from depression symptoms.

It’s difficult coping with hearing loss but help is out there. Find out what your options are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.

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