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

Did you realize that age-related hearing loss affects about one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of them are older than 75)? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those younger than 69! Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals dealing with neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.

There are numerous reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. One study determined that only 28% of people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, never mind 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 isn’t the case anymore. That’s relevant because a growing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.

A Columbia University research group performed a study that linked 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 correcting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.

It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing creates such a significant increase in the chances 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, adding to a substantial body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that found both individuals who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a significantly higher danger of depression.

The good news: The relationship that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. It’s most likely social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social interaction due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard everyday situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.

Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will lessen 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 reveal that those individuals were much more likely to experience 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 observed 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 significant 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 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 hard, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Find out what your options are by having your hearing tested. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.

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