Hearing loss is an unfortunate fact of life for many older citizens. In fact, hearing loss is one of the most common issues affecting older adults, with approximately 1/3 of all adults between the ages of 65 and 74 and half of all seniors older than 75 suffering from hearing loss in the United States.
For the most part, hearing loss in older adults is due to a lifetime of exposure to loud noises, such as those from lawn mowers, loud music, and rowdy sporting events. While these noises may not cause immediate hearing loss after listening to them, over time, these excessively loud noises can damage the sensitive organs in our ears and decrease our sensitivity to a range of sound frequencies. The result? Irreparable hearing loss in old age.
Although hearing loss isn’t a guarantee in old age, it negatively affects such a large percentage of the older adult population that warrants a significant portion of our hearing healthcare-related attention. Luckily, modern advancements in medicine and technology have given us a number of reliable and effective treatment options for people with age-related hearing loss. Thus, the problem is not age-related hearing loss itself, but rather when it goes untreated.
An Increase In Hearing Loss And An Increase In Depression
When hearing loss goes untreated, it can cause a whole host of issues, including cognitive decline (aka dementia), an increased risk of falls, and an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases. In addition to these physiological changes, older adults with untreated hearing loss also experience a much higher than average risk of depression, which can have serious negative consequences on one’s overall quality of life.
A recent study completed by researchers at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center sought to understand whether hearing loss can lead to depression in older adults. What they found is incredibly important for the future of hearing healthcare.
The study looked at data from 5,239 individuals over the age of 50 who were involved with the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, each of whom had recently participated in an audiometric hearing test (a way to test hearing loss) and was screened for depression. After analyzing the data, the researchers concluded that people with mild hearing loss are nearly two times more likely to have symptoms of clinical depression than their normal-hearing peers. If that wasn’t bad enough, people with severe hearing loss, on the other hand, are more than four times more likely to have symptoms of depression than normal-hearing older adults.
These results seem to clearly link hearing loss and depression, but the researchers do note that they only looked for this association at a single point in time, so they’re not able to conclude that hearing loss does, indeed, cause depression. Moreover, some people might raise issues with the fact that the study was conducted with only Hispanic and Latino/Latina participants.
Ultimately, what’s important to take away from this study is not that we have definitive evidence that links hearing loss and depression, but rather that we have evidence to suggest that seeking out treatment for hearing loss is of the utmost importance if we want to reduce our risk for other negative health consequences. Rather, we must strive to identify early signs of hearing loss, quickly diagnose these problems, and promptly seek treatment for these issues to help reduce the likelihood of senior citizens developing other medical conditions associated with their hearing loss.