Treating age-related hearing loss, which is often under-treated among all elderly, can help stave off late-life depression, scientists say.
"Most people over age 70 have at least mild hearing loss, yet relatively few are diagnosed, much less treated, for this condition," said Justin S Golub, assistant professor at Columbia University in the US.
"Hearing loss is easy to diagnose and treat, and treatment may be even more important if it can help ease or prevent depression," said Golub, lead author of the study.
Age-related hearing loss is the third-most common chronic condition in older adults. The condition is known to raise the risk of other conditions, such as cognitive impairment and dementia.
However, there are few large studies asking whether hearing loss may lead to depression in the elderly -- particularly in Hispanics, a group in which depression may be underdiagnosed because of language and cultural barriers.
The researchers analysed health data from 5,239 individuals over age 50 who were enrolled in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. Each participant had an audiometric hearing test -- an objective way to assess hearing loss -- and was screened for depression.
They found that individuals with mild hearing loss were almost twice as likely to have clinically significant symptoms of depression than those with normal hearing. I
Individuals with severe hearing loss had over four times the odds of having depressive symptoms.
The study does not prove that hearing loss causes depressive symptoms.
"But it's understandable how hearing loss could contribute to depressive symptoms. People with hearing loss have trouble communicating and tend to become more socially isolated, and social isolation can lead to depression," said Golub.
Although the study focused on Hispanics, the results could be applied to anyone with age-related hearing loss, according to the researchers.