The Link Between Hearing Loss And Depression In The Elderly

By Kelly Burch 01/15/19

A new study examines the link between depressive symptoms and hearing loss in older Hispanic adults.

elderly person with hearing loss

Having to ask people to repeat themselves or nodding along politely to a conversation they cannot hear is common for the thousands of elderly Americans who live with hearing loss. Now a new study shows that hearing loss isn’t just an inconvenience: It can be a real health threat linked to depression. 

The study, published in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, examined 5,328 Hispanic adults, testing their hearing and screening them for depression.

Adjusting for other contributing factors to depression like educational level and cardiac health, the researchers found that moderate hearing loss made people nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression. People with severe hearing loss were about four times more likely to be depressed. 

“People with hearing loss have trouble communicating and tend to become more socially isolated, and social isolation can lead to depression,” Justin S. Golub, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head & neck surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and lead study author told Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Golub pointed out that the study only found a link, and researchers couldn’t definitively say that hearing loss causes depression. 

“That would have to be demonstrated in a prospective, randomized trial,” he said. “But it’s understandable how hearing loss could contribute to depressive symptoms.”

However, the study did find that the likelihood of depression increased with the severity of hearing loss in the individuals who were screened. 

“The odds of having clinically significant depressive symptoms increased approximately 45% for every 20-dB increase in hearing loss,” the study authors wrote. “Objective hearing loss appears to be associated with clinically significant depressive symptoms in older Hispanic people, with greater hearing loss seemingly associated with greater odds of having depressive symptoms. Given the high prevalence of untreated hearing loss in older adults, hearing loss may be a potentially modifiable risk factor for late-life depression.”

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition for the elderly and has been linked with dementia and cognitive decline. Researchers looked at Hispanics because this group may be under-diagnosed with depression because of language and cultural barriers. The results show the need for more research into hearing loss and depression in the elderly population at large. It also suggests that screening for and treating hearing loss may be an important part of health care for older patients. 

“Most people over age 70 have at least mild hearing loss, yet relatively few are diagnosed, much less treated, for this condition,” Golub said. “Hearing loss is easy to diagnose and treat, and treatment may be even more important if it can help ease or prevent depression.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.