Treating age-related hearing loss may ‘head off’ depression

Researchers found that the greater the hearing loss, the greater the risk of having depressive symptoms in later life.

“It’s understandable how hearing loss could contribute to depressive symptoms”

Justin Golub

The findings suggest that treatment of age-related hearing loss, which is often under-recognised and undertreated among the elderly, could be one way to head off depression, they said.

“Given the high prevalence of untreated hearing loss in older adults, hearing loss may be a potentially modifiable risk factor for late-life depression,” they stated.

The study, led by Columbia University, has been published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Age-related hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition in older adults, noted the researchers, adding that it was known to raise the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.

As a result, the researchers analysed health data from 5,239 individuals over age 50 who were enrolled in a larger study – the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos.

Each participant had an audiometric hearing test – an objective way to assess hearing loss – and was screened for depression.

The researchers found that individuals with mild hearing loss were almost twice as likely to have clinically significant symptoms of depression than those with normal hearing.

In addition, the researchers found that individuals with severe hearing loss had over four times the odds of having depressive symptoms.

Lead study author Dr Justin Golub said: “Most people over age 70 have at least mild hearing loss, yet relatively few are diagnosed, much less treated, for this condition.

“It’s understandable how hearing loss could contribute to depressive symptoms,” he said. “People with hearing loss have trouble communicating and tend to become more socially isolated, and social isolation can lead to depression.”

He added: “Hearing loss is easy to diagnose and treat, and treatment may be even more important if it can help ease or prevent depression.”

Dr Golub suggested that, although the study focused on Hispanics, the results could be applied to anyone with age-related hearing loss.

“In general, older individuals should get their hearing tested and consider treatment, if warranted,” he said.