Did you know that age-related hearing loss is the third-most common chronic condition in older adults? If you have noticed symptoms of hearing loss as you age, be aware that you are not alone. Most adults over the age of 70 have at least mild hearing loss.
While hearing loss on its own may not seem too serious, the truth is that untreated hearing loss can contribute to issues much more serious than miscommunications. Several recent studies have found that untreated hearing loss in older adults is linked to a greater risk for numerous health conditions, including dementia, cognitive impairment, falls, and anxiety.
Another condition that has been linked to untreated hearing loss is depression. One recent study, in particular, set out to assess the connection between untreated hearing loss and the risk of depressive symptoms in older adults. The researchers focused on Hispanics; it is believed that depression is often under-diagnosed among Hispanics due to language and cultural barriers.
To better assess the rate of depression among Hispanics and to evaluate the connection between depression and hearing loss, researchers analyzed health data from 5, 239 adults over the age of 50 in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. Each individual underwent an audiometric hearing test, which objectively tests for hearing loss. The participants were also screened for depression.
The results of the study strongly indicate that untreated hearing loss is linked to a greater risk for depressive symptoms. Individuals with mild untreated hearing loss were nearly twice as likely to show clinically significant depressive symptoms when compared to those with normal hearing. Researchers found that individuals with severe untreated hearing loss were four times as likely to have symptoms of depression.
Thus, the greater the hearing loss, the greater the risk of depressive symptoms. Although this study focused on Hispanics, researchers believe it can be applied to any individual with age-related hearing loss.
While the exact link between untreated hearing loss and depression is still being studied, researchers hypothesize that the connection is largely due to social isolation. The lead author of the study, Justin S. Golub, MD, MS, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head & neck surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, explains, “People with hearing loss have trouble communicating and tend to become more socially isolated, and social isolation can lead to depression.”
Most medical professionals are aware that a majority of older adults experience age-related hearing loss, yet many people do not have their hearing tested. This results in many people with age-related hearing loss going untreated. The process for hearing testing and treatment is simple, and based on this new research, hearing loss treatment can improve more than just your hearing.
The results of this study indicate that treating age-related hearing loss may help to ease or even prevent depression among older adults. If you believe that you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss, it is important to be properly tested, diagnosed, and treated. We encourage you to contact our audiology practice today to learn more about treatment for hearing loss and to set up your appointment.