Higher rates of depression were most common among
women and among the middle-aged, compared to people over 70,
A few smaller studies have shown a connection between hearing loss
and depression, but they were not based on nationwide samples and
the results were conflicting, Dr. Chuan-Ming Li said.
Li 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 researchers analyzed data from the 2005-2010 National Health and
Nutrition Examination Surveys. More than 18,000 adults over age 18
answered questions about their mental and physical health, and those
over 70 years old were also examined for hearing loss by a doctor.
To assess hearing in all participants, one item on the questionnaire
asked: "Is your hearing excellent, good, do you have trouble
hearing, or are you deaf?" For this study, those who reported having
"some" or "a lot" of trouble hearing were counted as "hearing
Almost 80 percent of the people surveyed reported having good or
The participants also answered nine questions about depression
More than 11 percent of people with some hearing problems scored as
having moderate to severe depression, compared to six percent of
people with good or excellent hearing.
Among those with hearing problems, nine percent of men had moderate
to severe depression compared to almost 15 percent of women,
according to the results published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and
Women were more likely to report depression than men, but less
likely to report hearing problems.
Low education level, living alone, smoking and binge drinking were
all associated with both hearing problems and depression.
In general, as hearing impairment got worse, risk for depression
increased, except for people who were totally deaf — they 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. They are
more likely to have been "discovered" and offered treatments like
hearing aids or cochlear implants.
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"Thus, 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," Li said.
Although hearing impairment is more common in older people, for
those over 70 there was no association between self-reported hearing
trouble and depression. But this group also received a physical exam
for hearing loss, and according to that exam there was an
association between moderate hearing loss and depression among older
Researchers can't yet say why women might have stronger links
between hearing impairment and depression, Li said. Women do tend to
suffer more depression than men, also 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," he said.
"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."
Anyone with signs of depression should see a physician, he said. For
those with hearing loss, the Hearing Loss Association of America
website is a good resource.
"We should encourage people to find out about hearing loss and how
people successfully cope with it," Li said. "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."
JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, online March 6, 2014.
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