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

Are you aware that around one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing loss and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many people 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%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, there could be several reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or sought further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. Managing hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case now. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health hazard associated with hearing loss.

A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation linking hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they compiled data from. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of suffering with 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 equal to the sound of rustling leaves.

It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the chances of suffering from depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shock. This new study contributes to the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which found 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 danger of depression.

Here’s the good news: The connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. It’s probably social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social situations or even everyday conversations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.

Several studies have found that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. 1,000 individuals in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t establish 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 neglected hearing loss.

But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss relieves depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial 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 person in the group continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. And even a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.

It’s difficult struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Find out what your options are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall 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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