Objectives: The aim of this study was to establish the longitudinal relationship between hearing ability in noise and psychosocial health outcomes (i.e., loneliness, anxiety, depression, distress, and somatization) in adults aged 18 to 70 years. An additional objective was to determine whether a change in hearing ability in noise over a period of 5 years was associated with a change in psychosocial functioning. Subgroup effects for a range of factors were investigated.
Design: Longitudinal data of the web-based Netherlands Longitudinal Study on Hearing (NL-SH) (N = 508) were analyzed. The ability to recognize speech in noise (i.e., the speech-reception-threshold [SRTn]) was measured with an online digit triplet test at baseline and at 5-year follow-up. Psychosocial health status was assessed by online questionnaires. Multiple linear regression analyses and longitudinal statistical analyses (i.e., generalized estimating equations) were performed.
Results: Poorer SRTn was associated longitudinally with more feelings of emotional and social loneliness. For participants with a high educational level, the longitudinal association between SRTn and social loneliness was significant. Changes in hearing ability and loneliness appeared significantly associated only for specific subgroups: those with stable pattern of hearing aid nonuse (increased emotional and social loneliness), who entered matrimony (increased social loneliness), and low educational level (less emotional loneliness). No significant longitudinal associations were found between hearing ability and anxiety, depression, distress, or somatization.
Conclusions: Hearing ability in noise was longitudinally associated with loneliness. Decline in hearing ability in noise was related to increase in loneliness for specific subgroups of participants. One of these subgroups included participants whose hearing deteriorated over 5 years, but who continued to report nonuse of hearing aids. This is an important and alarming finding that needs further investigation.