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Hearing Loss Linked to Depression

by Alex Kilpatrick

According to a large recent United States survey, hearing-impaired adults are more prone to depression than those with excellent hearing or those who are fully deaf.

The researchers found that higher rates of depression were most common among women and the middle-aged.

Smaller studies have displayed a connection between hearing loss and depression, but these studies were not based on nationwide samples and the results were conflicting, according to Dr. Chuan-Ming Li, who worked on the new study at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

The new study’s researchers analyzed data from the 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, in which over 18,000 adults over the age of 18 answered questions about their mental and physical health. Doctors examined participants over 70 years old for hearing loss.

One questionnaire item asked participants, “Is your hearing excellent, good, do you have trouble hearing or are you deaf?” Those who reported having “some” or “a lot” of trouble hearing were counted as “hearing impaired.” Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed reported good or excellent hearing.

The participants also answered nine questions about depression symptoms. More than 11 percent of people with some hearing problems scored moderately to severely depressed, compared to only six percent of those with good or excellent hearing.

Nine percent of men with hearing problems had moderate to severe depression compared to almost 15 percent of women, according to the study results, published in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

Women were more likely to report depression than men but less likely to report hearing problems.

Factors like low education level, living alone, smoking and binge drinking were associated with both hearing problems and depression.

As hearing impairment worsened, risk for depression also increased, except for the fully deaf, who were about half as likely to be depressed as people with excellent hearing.

“One reason for this result may be that people with severe to profound HI have had a different experience in their exposure and access to hearing health care,” Li told Reuters Health. “Their lower prevalence of depression may be because a higher proportion of them have had access to hearing health care services and thereby have obtained more help and earlier interventions than those with mild to moderate HI.”

Hearing impairment is more common among older adults. However, participants over 70 displayed no association between self-reported hearing trouble and depression. On the other hand, the group also received a physical hearing loss exam, which showed a link between moderate hearing loss and depression in older women.

Li commented to Reuters that researchers can’t say why women have stronger links between hearing impairment and depression, but women tend to suffer more depression than men for unknown reasons.

“On average, men begin to lose their hearing in high frequencies, 3 to 6 kiloHertz, during middle age, probably due to a variety of factors, but especially due to noise-induced hearing loss,” Li told Reuters. “Women, on average, have fairly well-preserved hearing in the higher frequencies, which are critical for understanding speech in noisy environments, until after reaching age 65 or 70 when they begin to experience a steady decline.”

Li also noted that anyone with signs of depression should consult a physician. The Hearing Loss Association of America website is a good resource for those with hearing loss.

“We should encourage people to find out about hearing loss and how people successfully cope with it,” Li explained to Reuters. “It can be very helpful and empowering for an individual to know that others are in the same situation and are finding ways to cope.”

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