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 Hearing Loss Linked to Depression, Study Says

Elderly individuals with age-related hearing loss are likely to have more symptoms of depression, according to a new study​ published online in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. The findings suggest that the greater the hearing loss, the greater the risk of having depressive symptoms and that treatment of age-related hearing loss could be a way to ward off late-life depression. 

The study used data from the 2008-2011 Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos collected from 5,328 Hispanic adults in multiple cities who were 50 years or older and who had exposure, outcome, and covariate data. Data analyses were conducted from March 2018 to September 2018. Each participant had an audiometric hearing test—an objective way to assess hearing loss, according to the study—and was screened for depression.

The researchers found that individuals with mild hearing loss were nearly twice as likely to have clinically significant symptoms of depression than those with normal hearing. Those individuals with severe hearing loss had over four times the odds of having depressive symptoms, the study said.

"Most people over age 70 have at least mild hearing loss, yet relatively few are diagnosed, much less treated, for this condition," says Justin Golub, MD, led author of the study and assistant professor of otolaryngology—head and neck surgery at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Hearing loss is easy to diagnose and treat, and treatment may be even more important if it can help ease or prevent depression, he says. 

The researchers looked for an association at a single point in time, so the study does not prove that hearing loss causes depressive symptoms. "That would have to be demonstrated in a prospective, randomized trial," says Golub. However, he says, it is understandable how hearing loss could contribute to depressive symptoms. 

“People with hearing loss have trouble communicating and tend to become more socially isolated, and social isolation can lead to depression," says Golub.

Although the study focused on Hispanics, the results could be applied to anyone with age-related hearing loss, say the researchers. "In general, older individuals should get their hearing tested and consider treatment, if warranted," says Golub.

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