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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 adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are over 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of those who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69! Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from untreated hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

As people get older, there might be several reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the process of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research demonstrates that managing hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.

A Columbia University research group carried out a study that connected hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.

It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the likelihood of suffering from depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shock. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a considerable body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher danger of depression.

The good news: The relationship that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. More than likely, it’s social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social situations or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.

Numerous studies have found that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to alleviate 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 depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did show that those people were much more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.

But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss reduces depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them showed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And even a full year after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from depression symptoms.

Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Learn what your options are by having your hearing tested. 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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