About one-third of people over the age of 65 experience hearing loss

It’s the most common disability in this age group and yet it often goes undiagnosed until symptoms are severe.

As cognitive decline becomes more prevalent, we are increasingly looking for modifiable risks factors that could hopefully delay its onset. Could hearing loss be one of them? There seems to be an association between mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and hearing loss (both central and peripheral age-related) (Sardone et al., 2018).

Let’s look at some of the latest research in this regard.

In a recent literature review (Loughrey, Kelly, Kelley, Brennan, & Lawlor, 2018), hearing loss was associated with cognitive decline across domains.

While there is a clear relationship between memory loss and hearing loss, researchers in the Great Age Study looked at the type of hearing loss that affects the brain’s ability to turn sounds into information. They explored the possible relationship between MCI and age-related hearing loss and found that patients who did poorly on a test measuring central hearing loss had a higher incidence of MCI. There was no correlation between peripheral hearing loss and MCI.

Heywood et al. (2017) also noted that hearing loss was associated with increased incidence of dementia. The study concluded that patients with hearing loss were more likely to also suffer from dementia, as opposed to those without hearing loss. When study participants had normal cognitive baseline test results, they were more likely to develop dementia or MCI if hearing loss was present.

Researchers concluded that in some patients, hearing loss is connected to memory loss. This helps support the suggestion that patients older than 65 and those with cognitive impairment might benefit from a hearing loss work up, and maybe, as more research becomes available, patients with hearing loss might benefit from cognitive function testing as well.

References

  • Loughrey, D.G., Kelly, M. E., Kelley, G.A., Brennan, S., & Lawlor, B.A. (2018). Association of age-related hearing loss with cognitive function, cognitive impairment, and dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, 144(2), 115-126. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2017.2513
  • Heywood, R., Gao, Q., Nyunt, M. S. Z., Feng, L., Chong, M.S., Lim, W.S., Yap, P., Lee, T.S., Yap, K.B., Wee, S.L., & Ng, T. P. (2017). Hearing loss and risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia: findings from the Singapore Longitudinal Ageing Study. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 43(5-6), 259-268. doi:10.1159/000464281
  • Sardone, R., Battista, P., Tortelli, R., Piccininni, M., Coppola, F., Guerra, V., Abbrescia, D.I., & Logroscino, G. (2018). Great age study. Retrieved from https://www.aan.com/PressRoom/Home/PressRelease/1625