Hearing-impaired Americans—particularly women and those younger than 70—are more likely to be depressed, says a new study.
Previous studies have found a connection between hearing loss and depression, but those looked at smaller samples and had conflicting results. The new study looked at data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which included more than 18,000 adults aged 18 and older. Younger people self-reported their hearing status; adults 70 and older were given hearing tests. All study participants answered a questionnaire about depression.
The findings: As hearing declined, the percentage of depressed adults increased—from nearly 5 percent in those with no hearing problems to more than 11 percent in those who did.
“We found a significant association between hearing impairment and moderate to severe depression,” says study author Chuan-Ming Li, a researcher at the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Hearing loss was linked with an increased risk of depression in adults of all ages, but was worse in participants aged 18 to 69 and in women. Researchers believe this is because hearing loss makes it difficult to communicate with others. They also note that women suffer more depression than men, though the reasons for that disparity aren’t clear.
People who are having trouble hearing should seek medical help to discuss treatment options, Li says. “We should encourage people to find out about hearing loss and how people successfully cope with it. 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.”