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Sharon Basaraba

Hearing Loss Linked to Cognitive Impairment

By January 23, 2013

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Researchers have found what appears to be a link between hearing loss and mental decline in older adults. Published online this week in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) - Internal Medicine, the study was led by Frank Lin, assistant professor of epidemiology and geriatric medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

Lin's team studied a total of 1,162 older adults between the ages of 70 and 79, all independently living within the community in Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Subjects initially were chosen if they had no trouble walking a quarter-mile, or performing daily tasks. They were tested for hearing loss and tracked for a six-year period.

By the end of the study, those subjects with greater hearing loss were found to have a 24% greater risk of cognitive impairment during the six-year study period, and a 30-40% quicker rate of decline during that same period, compared to people of similar age with normal hearing.

The researchers speculate that there are a number of factors that may be responsible for the link.  For example, difficulties hearing can cause social isolation and loneliness, conditions that have also been associated with cognitive decline. Also, put very simply, if the sense of hearing is diminished, more brain power might have to be deployed to processing sound, at the expense of memory. The team concludes that more research is required to explain the association between hearing loss and cognitive function, as well as to establish whether assistive devices like hearing aids will prevent the decline.


Frank R. Lin et al. "Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults." JAMA Intern Med. 2013;():1-7.

February 7, 2013 at 10:01 am
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