Hearing Loss
Hearing impairment may speed loss of cognitive abilities in older people

THE QUESTION As people age, they often develop problems with thinking and memory as well as hearing difficulties. Might there be a link between cognitive decline and hearing loss?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 1,984 older adults (average age, 77), generally healthy and with no cognitive impairment. At the start of the study, hearing tests showed that 1,162 participants had some degree of hearing loss: 66 percent mild, 33 percent moderate and 1 percent severe. Standardized cognitive tests given periodically over the next six years found that 609 people developed cognitive impairment. Those who were hearing-impaired were 24 percent more likely to have cognitive problems than were people with normal hearing. Also, cognitive abilities declined 32 to 41 percent more quickly in those with hearing impairment than in the others. People with hearing impairment developed problems with thinking and memory skills about three years sooner than the others did.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Older adults. Close to 20 percent of adults in the United States have some hearing loss, men more than women; it affects nearly half of those 75 and older.

CAVEATS The study did not determine what may link hearing loss and cognitive decline. Whether hearing aids or other rehabilitative treatments might affect cognitive abilities was not tested.

FIND THIS STUDY Jan. 21 online issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

LEARN MORE ABOUT hearing loss at www.nihseniorhealth.gov and www.mayoclinic.com.

Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment’s effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.