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Untreated Hearing Loss Tied to Depression in Seniors

Hearing loss among seniors is not always recognized and treated, but if it were it might help head off late-life depression, a new report suggests.

Older people who suffer from hearing loss have a high risk for depression, and the greater the hearing loss, the greater the risk, researchers have found.

"Most people over age 70 have at least mild hearing loss, yet relatively few are diagnosed, much less treated, for this condition," said researcher Dr. Justin Golub. He is an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Columbia University in New York City.

"Hearing loss is easy to diagnose and treat, and treatment may be even more important if it can help ease or prevent depression," Golub said in a university news release.

For the study, Golub's team collected data on more than 5,200 adults over 50 who took part in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. Each participant had a hearing test and was screened for depression.

The researchers found that people with mild hearing loss were about two times more likely to have clinically significant depression than those with normal hearing.

Moreover, people with severe hearing loss had more than four times the odds of having depression, the findings showed.

The study can't prove that hearing loss caused depression. "But it's understandable how hearing loss could contribute to depressive symptoms," Golub said.

Hearing loss tends to make people more socially isolated, and social isolation can lead to depression, he explained.

Although the study was done among Hispanics, the results could be applied to anyone with age-related hearing loss, Golub said.

"In general, older individuals should get their hearing tested and consider treatment, if warranted," he advised.

The report was published online Jan. 2 in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.