Adults with Hearing Loss More Likely to Experience Depression

Last update on May, 27, 2019

The connection between hearing loss and depression

Depression costs health insurers, employers and U.S. society as a whole an estimated $210 billion annually, according to health care consultant Paul E. Greenberg. Now it’s become clear that by treating their hearing loss, many individuals could reduce their risk of depression.

Research conducted over several years has pointed to a strong correlation between hearing loss and depression. Recently, researchers reviewed 35 previous studies and determined that older adults with some form of hearing loss are 47% more likely than normal-hearing peers to experience symptoms of depression.

The researchers analyzed data involving 147,148 study participants who were at least 60 years old.

“We know that older adults with hearing loss often withdraw from social occasions, like family events, because they have trouble understanding others in noisy situations, which can lead to emotional and social loneliness,” said lead study author Blake Lawrence of the Ear Science Institute Australia and University of Western Australia in Crawley, as reported in a Reuters Health article.

“We also know that older adults with hearing loss are more likely to experience mild cognitive decline and difficulty completing daily activities, which can have an additional negative impact on their quality of life and increase the risk of developing depression,” said Lawrence.

Researchers think other factors may play a role in the hearing loss-depression connection. For example, hearing-impaired people often have balance issues, which can lead to decreased physical activity and ultimately depression. Another side effect of hearing loss is tinnitus, commonly called “ringing in the ears.” Severe cases of tinnitus can disrupt a person’s life, contributing to depression.

Hearing loss and depression impact all ages

While this latest study focused on older adults, other research has identified a correlation between hearing loss and depression in younger age groups.

For example, a study conducted by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) “found a strong association between hearing loss and depression among U.S. adults of all ages, particularly in women.” Specifically, 11.4% of adults with a self-reported hearing impairment experienced moderate to severe depression, compared to 5.9% of adults with normal hearing. Click here to read more about the NIDCD research.

Most of the $210 billion in depression-related costs cited by Greenberg “are for related mental illnesses, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as for physical illnesses such as back disorders, sleep disorders and migraines,” he writes in a Scientific American blog post.

“In fact, for every dollar spent treating depression,” Greenberg continues, “an additional $4.70 is spent on the direct and indirect costs of related illnesses, and another $1.90 is spent on a combination of reduced workplace productivity and the economic costs associated with suicide directly linked to depression.”

People with depression usually stay in the workforce, he adds, but employers see elevated levels of absenteeism and presenteeism (those who show up for work, but their illness makes them less productive).

Whether you’re a health insurer concerned about rising medical costs or an employer striving for maximum workforce productivity, focusing on hearing health makes more sense than ever — especially with new evidence of the connection between hearing loss and depression.

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