Hearing loss linked to depression in older adults

NEW YORK — Elderly people suffering from hearing loss are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, and the greater the degree of hearing loss, the more intense those symptoms are, a new study finds.

The findings by researchers at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center suggest that the treatment of age-related hearing loss, which is chronically undervalued by the elderly community, could also help with those struggling with late-life depression.

“It’s understandable how hearing loss could contribute to depressive symptoms,” says lead author Justin S. Golub, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head & neck surgery at Columbia, in a statement. “People with hearing loss have trouble communicating and tend to become more socially isolated, and social isolation can lead to depression.”

The team analyzed health data collected by the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study Of Latinos, which included data from 5,239 individuals over the age of 50. Each study participant was given an audiometric hearing test to assess hearing loss, and was screened for depression.

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

Age-related hearing loss is the third-most common chronic condition in the elderly. Hearing loss has already been associated with several other diseases and conditions, including dementia and cognitive impairment. The Columbia study is the first to attempt to tie hearing loss with depression, which is underreported in the Hispanic community because of language and cultural barriers.

The study was published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

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