Hearing Impairment and Mental Health Among Married Couples
Disablement is a significant health problem and chronic stressor for older adults and is associated with negative mental health outcomes. Although some research has explored how disability extends beyond individuals to influence the mental health of their support networks, less population-based research has assessed the consequences of hearing impairment, a growing public health concern that affects 72.4% of people aged 65 and older. Moreover, although much research has examined the negative individual impact of hearing impairment, less population-based research has assessed its consequences on spouses. To fill this gap, the current study builds on gender, marriage, and stress proliferation research to examine (a) the association between own hearing impairment and spouses’ depressive symptoms, and (b) whether this association varies by the gender of the spouse.
Fixed-effects regression models were conducted using data from 5,485 couples (10,970 individuals) from 10 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (1998–2016).
Wives’ fair or poor hearing is significantly associated with an increase in husbands’ depressive symptoms, net of controls. However, husbands’ fair or poor hearing is not associated with an increase in wives’ depressive symptoms.
These findings suggest that hearing impairment can proliferate from one spouse to the other, but that this proliferation depends on gender. Health care providers need to be aware of the implications for husbands when treating women with hearing impairment.
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