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 impairment 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 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from untreated hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, there could be a number of reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study revealed that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, let alone sought additional treatment. Many people just accept hearing loss as a normal part of getting older. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case now. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk associated with hearing loss.

A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation relating hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 people that they collected 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 adjusted for a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, approximately on par with the sound of rustling leaves.

The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so dramatically raise the probability of suffering from depression. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health worsened 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 test.

The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a biological or chemical relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. People with hearing loss will often steer clear of social situations because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard everyday situations. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.

Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did reveal that those people were much more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.

But the theory that treating hearing loss relieves depression is reinforced by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which demonstrated continuing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from symptoms of depression.

Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Find out what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general 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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