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

Did you realize that age-related hearing impairment affects about one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of them are over 75)? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people suffering from neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, there might be numerous reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study determined that only 28% of individuals who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, let alone sought additional treatment. For some people, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. Managing hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the situation anymore. That’s relevant because a growing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.

A Columbia University research group carried out a study that linked 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 likelihood of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a range of variables. 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 little difference in hearing creates such a large increase in the chances of developing depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shocker. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. In another study, a considerably 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: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social interaction because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard everyday situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.

Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to several studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals in their 70’s were looked at 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 individuals were much more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.

But other research, which followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were examined in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.

Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to go it alone. Get your hearing checked, and know about your options. Your hearing will be improved 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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