Cochlear Implants May Help Lift Depression

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Medical problems frequently are accompanied by anxiety or depression, including hearing loss associated with aging. Can fixing the problem reduce distress? For older people who receive a hearing aid or cochlear implant, the answer is yes.

Researchers evaluated 113 adults, median age 70, who had hearing loss. Sixty-three of them were fitted with hearing aids and 50 underwent surgery to receive a cochlear implant in one or both ears. Cochlear implants are electronic devices that do the work of damaged parts of the ear by providing direct stimulation to the auditory nerve in the inner ear.

Each participant completed a questionnaire that measured their depressive symptoms before receiving a hearing aid or cochlear implant (baseline) and then six and 12 months afterward.

Among people who received cochlear implants, depressive symptoms decreased by 31 percent from baseline at six months and by 38 percent at 12 months. For those who received hearing aids, depressive symptoms decreased by 28 percent from baseline at six months but by only 16 percent at 12 months. Overall, people who had more depressive symptoms when the study began experienced the greatest improvement.

Whether people would have experienced additional improvement in depression with psychiatric treatment was not tested, but it is encouraging to know that both hearing loss and its accompanying distress can be reduced by improving hearing.

JAMA Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery, Published online May 2016