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 affected by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those younger than 69! At least 20 million people cope with untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.

There are a variety of reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. One study determined that only 28% of individuals who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, let alone sought additional treatment. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the process of aging. Hearing loss has long 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. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t 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 and depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they collected data from. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers revealed that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, approximately on par with the sound of rustling leaves.

It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing creates such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shock. This new study contributes to the substantial existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.

Here’s the good news: The connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. In all likelihood, it’s social. People with hearing loss will often steer clear of social interaction due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard day-to-day situations. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.

Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. 1,000 individuals in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did reveal that those individuals were far more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.

But the theory that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions and also mental function after using 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 experience less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.

Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Learn what your options are by having your hearing tested. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.