A Connection between Hearing Loss, Depression, and Dementia

A Connection between Hearing Loss, Depression, and Dementia

In Uncategorized by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A
Latest posts by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A (see all)

Those who study hearing loss discover some surprising connections to other health outcomes. Not only are those who have untreated hearing loss more likely to have physical conditions, such as heart disease and dementia, but they also demonstrate higher rates of mental and cognitive health problems than the general population. Taken one-by-one, hearing loss is correlated with higher rates of both depression and dementia, but it can be difficult to describe a causal mechanism linking them all together. 

In order to point in the direction of an answer, a team of researchers led by Katharine K Brewster at the New York State Psychiatric Institute at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons took a look at a large collection of data on the three conditions. Let’s discover the results of this study, as well as some speculative connections between the three conditions together. 

The Study

In order to get a sense of the connections between these health outcomes, the researchers at Columbia University used the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center Uniform Data Set to collect information on 8529 participants aged 60 and over who were free of cognitive impairment at the baseline of the study. This sample included people with and without hearing loss, with and without depression, as well as people who developed these conditions at the start of the research. 

After looking at these relationships, the researchers asked if having hearing loss or depression was an indicator of the likelihood a person might develop dementia. Indeed, the results showed that both conditions were correlated with higher rates of dementia. Specifically, age-related hearing loss was under investigation, and it had a significant correlation with dementia. Similarly, those with depression at the baseline were more likely to develop dementia during the study. What might be linking these results to one another? In order to answer that question, researchers consider what other studies have shown about the link between hearing loss and depression. 

Hearing Loss and Depression

Not only are these conditions linked to higher rates of dementia, but they are also linked to one another. Other studies have shown that those with untreated hearing loss are more likely to report depression than their counterparts who do not have hearing loss. Perhaps this additional link is the key to the puzzle connecting all three. Those who have hearing loss sometimes tend to avoid social situations in which they cannot easily understand what is going on. In fact, some people socially isolate themselves rather than trying to engage with a world that makes little sense. We know that strong social and family connections are important to mental health as well as ongoing cognitive ability in older age. 

Those who don’t use their communication skills through verbal language tend to have higher rates of dementia. Flexing our linguistic skills seems to be a crucial building block of ongoing cognitive health, so seniors are encouraged to maintain connections with others and to keep reading, writing, and even completing language-based games such as crossword puzzles. Hearing loss might be one aspect of the link between depression and dementia, as well. Those who have trouble communicating due to hearing loss might be more prone to stay home and avoid social settings. That avoidance can lead not only to depression but also to cognitive decline. 

Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss

This evidence points strongly to the necessity to get a hearing test right away. Studies on cognitive decline are equivocal when it comes to the effectiveness of treatment, but it is important to get the whole picture of your hearing ability in order to make informed decisions. Once age-related hearing loss takes place, it can escalate quickly, so it is important to get regular hearing tests in our senior years. 

With knowledge about hearing ability and the presence of hearing loss, you can make an informed decision in conversation with your hearing health professional and loved ones about what steps to take. Without a thorough diagnosis of your hearing ability, you might be operating on faulty assumptions about your hearing ability, so don’t delay scheduling your hearing exam as soon as possible!