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Hearing loss can cause holiday sadness

December 8, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
It's quite common to see relatives withdraw and feel depressed during the holidays, but the cause might be something you might not realize. Age-related hearing loss can be quite frustrating and isolating, but a new discovery could be the answer researchers have been searching for.It's the season for family and friends, but many people feel left out at holiday gatherings. Sixty-two-year-old Karen Hall tends to smile and nod a lot. She started to lose her hearing in her early 50s, but she can't stand hearing aids because of the expense and inconvenience.

"It's just the putting them on and the taking them off," explained Karen.

Age-related hearing loss accounts for 30 percent of hearing loss in people 65 and older, and 50 percent in those 80 and older.

"They are sort of isolated from conversation, and it can lead to depression in the holidays," said Dr. Rick Friedman from the House Ear Institute.

Researchers at the House Ear Institute say they've identified the cause of this type of hearing loss and they believe many people with this condition carry a gene that triggers it.

"The gene we discovered is a molecule which binds glutamate, and glutamate is the primary neurotransmitter between the sensory cells of the ear and the hearing nerve -- the eighth nerve," explained Dr. Friedman.

It's the glutamate that causes the damage to hair cells in the inner and outer ear. Now that they've discovered a cause, the next stop is to figure out how to treat it. A new treatment is years away and doctors say it may not help everyone with hearing loss, but the news is still music to Karen's ears. She'll be listening for further developments.

The House Ear Institute offers lots of public events and workshops to help those improve their hearing health. Get more information on the House Ear Institute.


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