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

Are you aware that about one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss and half of them are older than 75? But despite its prevalence, only around 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! At least 20 million people deal with untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.

There are a number of reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. 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 people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, 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’s not the situation now. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.

A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation connecting hearing loss to depression. They collected data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also assessing them for signs of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a range of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.

It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing produces such a significant increase in the chances of developing depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shock. This new study contributes to the substantial 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 found 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.

Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a biological or chemical connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.

Numerous studies have found that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, although the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not looking at data over time.

But other research, which followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study conducted 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 beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from symptoms of depression.

Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Learn 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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