When hearing ability declines, the likelihood of an adult age 18 or older developing depression doubles, according to a new study from the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. While researchers admit that the cause-and-effect relationship is still unknown, the strong association between the two does not surprise many experts in the field.
“People with hearing loss, especially those who don’t use hearing aids, find it more difficult to communicate with other people, whether in family situations, in social gatherings, or at work,” said James Firman, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging.
The findings are especially significant because the symptoms seem to be present across the entire adult population, rather than only in the elderly. Prior studies connecting depression and hearing loss focused primarily on adults age 50 and older. In this study, 18,000 adults of all ages were surveyed.
“What studies like this give us is an opportunity to see whether hearing loss is truly as impactful on total health as many hearing care professionals suggest it is,” says Sue Clampitt, M.S. of Hunterdon Audiology Associates. “A lot of this new research seems to confirm suspicions that many audiologists already had.”
For all adults up to age 70, as hearing loss became worse, so did the depression. Women tended to have higher rates of depression than men did, including among those 70 and older. Those who suspect they may have a hearing loss should seek help from a certified hearing care specialist to prevent social isolation, which leads to depression in many cases, according to Clampitt.
“Relatives and others who are close to the person with hearing loss usually notice first,” says Clampitt. “But they need to be diagnosed before they can be treated, and getting them involved in social activities is a huge step in preventing any serious cognitive disease or depression after a hearing loss has been identified.”
The study was published April 2014 by the Journal of the American Medical Association.