Years of anecdotal evidence have linked hearing loss and depression. Now there is a growing body of scientific data to support this link. The few studies that existed showed mixed results, tenuous connections, and primarily focused on seniors or specific demographics. However, a 2014 study documented the connection between depression and hearing impairment with quantifiable data. It showed that women and individuals under 70 years of age in the U.S. are particularly susceptible to depression if they already have some degree of hearing loss.
The 2014 study, authored by Chuan-Ming Li, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher at the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, was published in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery. The study found a significant association between hearing loss and moderate to severe depression. Researchers showed that 5% of individuals without hearing loss had symptoms of depression, compared to 11% of individuals with hearing loss who also exhibited signs.
More than 18,000 adults responded to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It required filling out a questionnaire with questions the researchers designed to reveal symptoms of melancholy. The research demonstrated the strongest connection between hearing deficits and depression in women age 18 and 69 years. The research did not show a correlation in men over age 70, only in women. This may be due to the fact that women, after the age of 65, begin losing the ability to hear higher frequencies. The brain needs these higher pitched sounds to comprehend speech in loud environments. A decrease in communication leads to loneliness and feeling left out.
People with hearing loss often have challenges when communicating with family members, colleagues and friends. Unfortunately, this can lead to the individual with hearing loss retreating from social life and isolating him- or herself. But treatment is effective in restoring relationships which, in turn, can improve well-being and alleviate feelings of isolation.