Hearing loss linked to cognitive decline in study

Hearing loss appeared to be associated with accelerated cognitive decline and cognitive impairment in a study of older adults.

The prevalence of dementia is projected to double every 20 years because of the world’s aging population, so identifying the factors and understanding the pathways that lead to cognitive decline and dementia in older adults are public health priorities, according to background information for the study, which is scheduled for publication in JAMA Internal Medicine (formerly the Archives of Internal Medicine).

Frank R. Lin, MD, PhD, of The Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health, Baltimore, and colleagues studied 1,984 older adults (average age about 77) who were enrolled in a prospective observational study that began in 1997-98.

A total of 1,162 individuals with baseline hearing loss had annual rates of decline — based on test scores that measured global and executive function — that were 41% and 32% greater, respectively, than those among individuals with normal hearing. Compared with those individuals with normal hearing, individuals with hearing loss at baseline had a 24% increased risk for incident cognitive impairment during a six-year period, according to the study data.

“Our results demonstrate that hearing loss is independently associated with accelerated cognitive decline and incident cognitive impairment in community-dwelling older adults,” the authors wrote. “The magnitude of these associations is clinically significant.”

The authors suggested that, on average, individuals with hearing loss would require 7.7 years to decline by five points on the 3MS (the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination, a commonly accepted level of change indicative of cognitive impairment), compared with 10.9 years in individuals with normal hearing.

“In conclusion, our results suggest that hearing loss is associated with accelerated cognitive decline and incident cognitive impairment in older adults,” the authors wrote. “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.”

The study abstract is available at http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1558452#qundefined.

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