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 impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. 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 get 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 normal part of the process of aging. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with improvements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the situation now. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard associated with hearing loss.

A Columbia University research group performed a study that connected hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they gathered data from. After correcting for a host 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 quieter than a whisper, roughly on par with the sound of rustling leaves.

It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing generates such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss worsens is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a sizable body of literature linking the two. In another study, a significantly higher risk of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.

The good news: The relationship that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s probably social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social interaction or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.

Multiple studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did show that those people were a lot more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.

But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, all of them demonstrated considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which showed ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And a study from 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.

It’s difficult dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing checked, and know about your solutions. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.

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