It has long been acknowledged that hearing impairment may increase the risk for psychotic experiences. Recent work suggests that young people in particular may be at risk, indicating a possible developmental mechanism.
The hypothesis that individuals exposed to hearing impairment in early adolescence would display the highest risk for psychotic symptoms was examined in a prospective cohort study of a population sample of originally 3021 adolescents and young adults aged 14–24 years at baseline, in Munich, Germany (Early Developmental Stages of Psychopathology Study). The expression of psychosis was assessed at multiple time points over a period of up to 10 years, using a diagnostic interview (Munich Composite International Diagnostic Interview; CIDI) administered by clinical psychologists.
Hearing impairment was associated with CIDI psychotic symptoms [odds ratio (OR) 2.04, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.10–3.81], particularly more severe psychotic symptoms (OR 5.66, 95% CI 1.64–19.49). The association between hearing impairment and CIDI psychotic symptoms was much stronger in the youngest group aged 14–17 years at baseline (OR 3.28, 95% CI 1.54–7.01) than in the older group aged 18–24 years at baseline (OR 0.82, 95% CI 0.24–2.84).
The finding of an age-specific association between hearing impairment and psychotic experiences suggests that disruption of development at a critical adolescent phase, in interaction with other personal and social vulnerabilities, may increase the risk for psychotic symptoms.
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