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Older Adults: Hearing Loss and Depression Connection

     

Some hearing loss is common as people age and it can be challenging and distressing. Several studies have found a connection between hearing loss and depression. Both conditions are often not identified and treated.

An estimated 25 percent of people age 55 to 64 have some hearing loss. By age 70, two-thirds of adults have some hearing impairment. The most common form of hearing loss is gradual decline in hearing associated with aging. Typically, the highest frequency sounds are lost, and it is difficult to distinguish speech and background noise. Many people live with hearing loss difficulties for a long time without seeking treatment and only 25 percent of those with treatable hearing loss get hearing devices.

Significant depression symptoms are experienced by about 15 percent of older adults. One recent study published this year in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry looked at the association of hearing loss and depression in otherwise healthy older adults over a 10-year period. Those with hearing loss were more than one and half times more likely to experience depressive symptoms.

Despite a strong association between depression and hearing loss, the mechanisms underlying the relationship between hearing loss and depression are not well understood. Hearing loss can be frustrating and stressful and make it harder for individuals to communicate. It can lead some people to avoid social situations and become increasingly isolated which can contribute depression. It can also cause distress among family members and loved ones when a person doesn’t acknowledge their hearing loss or withdraws from social interactions.

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In addition, some research has identified an association between hearing loss and anxiety. For example, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Aging Health found that hearing impairment is associated with greater odds of anxiety symptoms in older adults. Older adults with mild hearing impairment were 32 percent more likely, and people with moderate or greater impairment are 59 percent more likely, to have anxiety compared with individuals with no hearing impairment.

Being aware of the possible connections between the two conditions can help individuals, family members and providers identify and address both conditions, potentially improving the quality of life for many older adults.

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