A newly published study provides more evidence of the importance of addressing hearing loss in senior living residents: researchers found that the greater the hearing loss in older adults, the greater the risk of having symptoms of depression. The findings suggest that treatment of age-related hearing loss could be one way to head off late-life depression.

The study, published online in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, included an analysis of health data from 5,239 people aged more than 50 years. Each study participant underwent an audiometric hearing test and a screening for depression.

Researchers looked for an association at a single point in time, so the study cannot prove that hearing loss causes depressive symptoms.

“That would have to be demonstrated in a prospective, randomized trial,” said lead author Justin S. Golub, MD, MS, assistant professor of otolaryngology head and neck surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “But it’s understandable how hearing loss could contribute to depressive symptoms. People with hearing loss have trouble communicating and tend to become more socially isolated, and social isolation can lead to depression.”

The researchers found that people with mild hearing loss were almost twice as likely to have clinically significant symptoms of depression than those with normal hearing. Those with severe hearing loss had more than four times the odds of having depressive symptoms.

Although the study focused on Hispanic adults, the results could be applied to anyone with age-related hearing loss, researchers said. “In general, older individuals should get their hearing tested and consider treatment, if warranted,” Golub said.

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