Hearing impairment afflicts about 20 percent of U.S. adults. Depression affects around 9 percent. Previous studies found a link between these two conditions, but many only concentrated on older adults, people from specific regions or those from certain ethnicities. Now a new, large examination with a broader focus associates hearing loss with moderate to severe depression among American adults, especially women and those younger than age 70.
Affected Participant Breakdown
Researchers analyzed data collected from over 18,000 adults aged 18 and older from the 2005-2010 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. All study subjects answered questions about their hearing and depression symptoms. They classified their hearing on a scale of excellent, good, having trouble hearing or deaf. People 70 and older also underwent physical examinations and hearing tests.
According to study author Dr. Chuan-Ming Li, a researcher at the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, almost 80 percent of respondents reported having excellent or good hearing. This study counted those who indicated they had some or a lot of trouble hearing as hearing impaired (HI). More than 11 percent of people with some hearing problems scored as having moderate to severe depression, compared to about 5 percent of participants with good or excellent hearing. Among those with hearing loss, 15 percent of women and 9 percent of men had moderate to severe depression.
Higher rates of depression occurred in women. The study team linked hearing loss with an increased risk of depression in adults of all ages, but it was most common in respondents aged 18 to 69. Women were more likely to divulge their depression symptoms than men but less apt to admit they had hearing problems. The researchers correlated low education levels, living alone, smoking and binge drinking with both hearing problems and depression.
Surprising Results in Older People
Although hearing impairment is more common with advancing age, no connection occurred between self-reported hearing loss and depression in subjects who were 70 and older. However, physical exams found an association between moderate hearing loss and depression in older women. Li noted that women begin to experience a steady decline in their higher frequencies that are crucial to understanding speech in noisy environments after age 65. Noise-induced hearing loss starts in men’s high frequencies during middle age typically.
The Unexpected Deafness Factor
As hearing loss worsened, participants’ depression risks did too, except among those who were deaf. They were about half as likely to experience depression as people with excellent hearing. Li surmised that patients with severe to profound HI may have sought hearing health care services. They might have received earlier treatments like hearing aids or cochlear implants than those with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Experts Support Findings
Two experts in the field who didn’t take part in the study reviewed the research team’s conclusions. James Firman, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging, agreed that communicating with others is more difficult for people with hearing loss. This is especially true for those who don’t use hearing aids, whether they’re with family, at social gatherings or work.
Doctors who treat the hearing impaired have seen this link for some time, according to Robert Frisina, director of the Global Center for Hearing & Speech Research at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Even so, he said that the study is valuable for adding solid data to anecdotal information. While sorting out cause and effect is difficult, Frisina noted that the association held even after the researchers took other conditions like vision problems that could affect hearing into account. In all probability, the results link these conditions pretty strongly, he concluded.
People who think they’re having trouble hearing should seek help, Frisina suggested. Often, family and friends notice the loss first. He recommends seeing an audiologist and otolaryngologist to get a proper diagnosis. Because HI causes can vary, so do treatment options. Earwax removal or antibiotics may relieve your symptoms.
Depression is more than just a temporary bout of the blues. It’s a treatable medical illness — not a sign of weakness. See a doctor for major depression symptoms that last at least two weeks. They may include:
Intense feelings of sadness or a depressed mood
Inability to feel pleasure
Unhappiness, emptiness, helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
Fixation on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren’t your responsibility
Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration — even over small matters
Loss of interest or enjoyment in usual activities including sex
Difficulty thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering
Sleep disturbances including insomnia and oversleeping
Appetite changes, which may include weight gain or loss
Anxiety, agitation or restlessness including excessive worrying, pacing, hand-wringing or inability to sit still
Tiredness, fatigue or lack of energy so even small tasks take extra effort
Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
Unexplained physical ailments such as back pain and headaches
Thoughts of suicide or death
Your depression may require long-term treatment. But don’t let that discourage you. Most people with this mood disorder feel better with antidepressant medication, psychological counseling or both. Your doctor may prescribe Pristiq, a selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). It helps restore the balance of these natural substances in your brain. Follow your prescribed treatment plan to improve your mood, feelings of well-being and energy level.