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

Did you realize that age-related hearing impairment affects around one in three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are over 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 suffering from neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

There are numerous reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard associated with hearing loss.

A Columbia University research group carried out a study that connected 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. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.

The basic relationship between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so dramatically increase the probability of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss worsens is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a sizable body of literature connecting the two. 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 significantly higher danger 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. It’s probably social. People with hearing loss will frequently avoid social situations because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about typical day-to-day situations. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.

Multiple studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to ease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, though the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not viewing the data over time.

But the hypothesis 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 examined in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions 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 notice less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And even a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.

Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need 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 general quality of life.

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