Image of Dalia Tsimpida, Ph.D.; Image credit: The University of Manchester

Not only may hearing loss cause depression in older adults, but early treatment may delay the onset of the debilitating mental health condition, new research suggests.

That’s according to investigators from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, who said that their new study may lay to rest more than 40 years of argument in the research community on whether hearing loss directly causes depression.

The researchers analyzed the full dataset from more than 74,000 participants aged 50 to 89 years from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, 2002 to 2017. They looked at how quality of life and wealth affected the relationship between depression and hearing loss, among other factors. 

Results showed strong evidence that hearing loss may act as a cause of depression in older people, reported Dalia Tsimpida, Ph.D. And notably, socioeconomic status appeared to play an important role in the effect hearing aids had on alleviating depression — the first time this association has been shown, the investigators reported. Members of poorer socioeconomic groups derived more benefit from hearing aids than their wealthier peers.

“Our study shows that hearing loss poses a substantial risk for depressive symptoms in older adults, especially those who experience socioeconomic inequalities,” Tsimpida and colleagues said.

Early detection of hearing loss in primary care routine assessments may not only promote better hearing health but also prevent or delay the onset of depression, the authors proposed.

“Increasing the hearing loss treatment rate could be one effective strategy for risk reduction of depression, given the high prevalence of hearing loss in older age and its low treatment levels,” they concluded.

Full findings were published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.