Hearing loss is linked to a faster cognitive decline and cognitive impairment in older adults.

The finding came from new research conducted by The John Hopkins Center on Aging and Health, Baltimore, and was published Online First by JAMA Internal Medicine.

The research coincides with a prior study which demonstrated that older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia, and when their hearing loss gets worse, their risk increases.

As a result of the aging of the worldwide population, scientists expect the prevalence of dementia to double every twenty years. A previous report stated that 65.7 million people will be affected by dementia in 2030, and in 2050 it will affect 115.4 million.

Therefore, it is important to public health to recognize the factors and comprehend the pathways that result in cognitive decline and dementia in seniors.

A team of researchers, led by Frank R. Lin, M.D., Ph.D., analyzed 1,984 older adults aged 77 years on average who participated in larger prospective observational research that started in 1997-1998.

People with some degree of hearing loss at the start of the study (baseline) had 32% poorer executive function results and 41% lower global function results than their counterparts who had no hearing problems.

The results showed that the older adults who had hearing loss at baseline experienced a 24% elevated chance for incident cognitive impairment.

The authors explained:

“Our results demonstrate that hearing loss is independently associated with accelerated cognitive decline and incident cognitive impairment in community-dwelling older adults. The magnitude of these associations is clinically significant, with individuals having hearing loss demonstrating a 30 percent to 40 percent accelerated rate of cognitive decline and a 24 percent increased risk for incident cognitive impairment during a six-year period compared with individuals having normal hearing.”

People with hearing loss drop five points on the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination (3MS) within an average of 7.7 years. 3MS is a frequently recognized level of alteration that represents cognitive impairment. The participants without any hearing loss took an average of 10.9 years to decline by 5%.

The researchers concluded:

“Our results suggest that hearing loss is associated with accelerated cognitive decline and incident cognitive impairment in older adults. Further research is needed to investigate what the mechanistic basis of this observed association is and whether such pathways would be amendable to hearing rehabilitative interventions.”

Written by Sarah Glynn