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

Are you aware that about one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many people 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 deal with untreated 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 seeking help for their hearing loss. One study revealed that only 28% of people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, never mind sought further treatment. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Treating hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the case now. That’s important because an increasing body of research indicates that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.

A Columbia University research group carried out a study that connected hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of having 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 small difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic connection 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 revealed that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. In another study, a significantly higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.

Here’s the good news: The relationship that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. In all likelihood, it’s social. People who have hearing loss will often avoid social situations because of anxiety and will even often feel anxious about typical everyday situations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.

Several 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 used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, although the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not looking at data over time.

But the theory that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them showed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the sample continuing to experience 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 depression symptoms.

Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Find out what your options are by having your hearing tested. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.

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