Longitudinal Study Shows Relationship Between Cognition, Untreated Hearing Loss and Social Isolation

October 21, 2018

Figure 1. Risk factors associated with dementia (click to enlarge). Lancet Commissions report, July 2017

Readers may recall a July 2017 Lancet study which estimated 35% of the risk factors associated with dementia was modifiable, and that the most prominent modifiable risk factor was hearing loss, which contributed 9% toward the acceleration or possible onset of dementia. A study, published in JAMA Otolaryngology last week, builds on this eye-opening data. Figure 1 shows the modifiable risks factors and roughly when they are like to occur during the life span.

Using a sample size of more than 7000 adults over the age of 50, British researchers investigated the link between age-related hearing loss, cognitive decline, specifically looking at untreated hearing loss and social isolation as potential contributors of the link between cognition and hearing.

Their results showed hearing loss had a negative association with cognitive ability for participants with a moderate to severe hearing loss, but this association was only seen in those participants who did not use hearing aids. Their results suggest a key driver of the association between hearing loss and cognitive decline is untreated hearing loss.

Further, the investigators found that those with hearing loss has higher odds of being socially isolated.


Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline


Like others similar studies that have received considerable attention in the industry press (e.g., Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging), this study shows hearing loss is linked to cognitive decline, with the association being greater as the degree of hearing loss increases. This current study, however, contributes one new finding: the association between hearing loss and cognitive decline was seen only in individuals who did not use hearing aids, and for the participants who wore hearing aids there was no evidence of an association between hearing loss and cognitive decline.

Another finding of interest in this study is that social isolation significantly reduces cognitive ability. Those participants with hearing loss that did not use hearing aids tended to be more prone to the ill-effects of social isolation.

According to the investigators, their findings are an indication that adults over the age of 50 ought to be routinely screened for hearing loss and cognitive decline in primary care settings. Additionally, they recommend, based on the results of this study, that more prominent public health campaigns are needed to increase the awareness that cognitive decline associated with age-related hearing loss might be preventable with opportunistic hearing screening, along with early rehabilitation.

The full text can be found at this gated site: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/article-abstract/2698895?resultClick=1

  1. I am glad that there is now more focus and creation of better incentives to help people with using hearing aids to prevent low down of cognitive abilities. But let the truth be told: Cognitive depletion due to reduced hearing is not permanent!!!!!!! Application of hearing aids promptly improves cognition and brings mental alertness back on track.Social isolation reduces mental activity due to lack of intellectual participation. Again, using hearing aids and getting out of the tunnel called “home” helps regain mental participation in group talks, and actually also helps physical dexterity and blood flow issues that are negatively affected by lack of exercise.
    My three step formula for mental rehabilitation is being discussed by audiologists and researchers in Europe. The results of my method are generating excellent results here in California. Remember, its 80% psychology and 20 % hearing technology.

  2. I fully agree with your research and comments. Address hearing loss with wax removal, screening and the issue of hearing aids to prevent or reduce progress of cognitive decline.
    Ensure that the hearing aid is not lost : Issue a HEAR EAR securing clip to prevent against loss of the hearing device which may also inform others that you have hearing impairment and they should communicate face to face, speak clearly and not in a distracting noisy environment. Especially so for people living in care who rely on carers for their personal well-being. Carers should be trained to manage hearing aids and to identify when a hearing aid is working : changing battery, correct insertion of the hearing aid.

    Addressing hearing loss ensures that quality of life is maintained, social inclusion and engagement with others,
    Do not return to the pre- hearing aid state where mental activity is not stimulated.

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