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 loss and 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 could be a number of reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who confirmed some degree of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable condition. That’s relevant because a growing 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 linking hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they gathered data from. 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 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 creates such a large increase in the chances of suffering from depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss worsens is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a sizable body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.

Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s probably social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social situations or even everyday conversations. This can increase social separation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.

Numerous studies have found that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were considerably less likely to experience symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.

But other research, that followed subjects before and after using hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. Only 34 people were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also mental function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to wear 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 symptoms of depression.

It’s difficult struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing checked, and learn about your options. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.

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References

https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/age-related-hearing-loss
https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27818440
https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing#8
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/fullarticle/2664072
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/article-abstract/2717904
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/article-abstract/2717904
https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/40/3/320/605349
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24604103
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3773611/
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167494310001147
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1447-0594.2011.00789.x
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1494282

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