Un­treated hear­ing loss tied to cog­ni­tive de­cline

The Borneo Post - Nature and health - - Front Page - by Lisa Ra­pa­port

While age-re­lated hear­ing loss has long been linked to cog­ni­tive de­cline, a UK study sug­gests hear­ing aids may help min­imise the risk of prob­lems like im­paired mem­ory or ex­ec­u­tive func­tion. Re­searchers ex­am­ined data on 7,385 adults 50 and older with­out a di­ag­no­sis of de­men­tia or other con­di­tions tied to cog­ni­tive prob­lems and with­out hear­ing im­plants or ear in­fec­tions. Over­all, about 41 per cent had mild hear­ing loss, 10 per cent had se­vere hear­ing loss, and 11 per cent used a hear­ing aid. Peo­ple with mild to mod­er­ate hear­ing loss did score lower on mem­ory as­sess­ments than in­di­vid­u­als with per­fect hear­ing, the study found. But this was only true for peo­ple who didn’t use hear­ing aids.

“Not cor­rect­ing for hear­ing loss re­sults in so­cial iso­la­tion which in turn re­sults in us not util­is­ing many of our neu­ral net­works in the brain on a reg­u­lar ba­sis,” said study co-author Gurleen Popli of the Univer­sity of Sh­effield, in an email. “This could pos­si­bly ex­plain the cog­ni­tive de­cline.” Peo­ple in the study who used hear­ing aids, how­ever, were very dif­fer­ent from in­di­vid­u­als who didn’t use these de­vices, the re­searchers re­port in JAMA Oto­laryn­gol­ogy Head and Neck Sur

gery. Hear­ing aid users tended to have mod­er­ate to se­vere hear­ing loss rather than just mild hear­ing loss.

They also tended to be older, to live alone, and to have high blood pressure - all in­de­pen­dent risk fac­tors for cog­ni­tive de­cline. About one in three adults ages 65 to 74 have hear­ing loss, and al­most half of peo­ple older than 75 have trou­ble hear­ing, ac­cord­ing to the US Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health. Age-re­lated hear­ing loss can lead to a wide va­ri­ety of health prob­lems, as it touches on many as­pects of daily life, mak­ing it harder for peo­ple to keep up with con­ver­sa­tions, main­tain a nor­mal so­cial life and fol­low a doc­tor’s ad­vice about med­i­cal prob­lems. Pre­vi­ous stud­ies have in­di­cated that age-re­lated hear­ing loss may be a risk fac­tor for de­men­tia.

How­ever, re­sults from in­di­vid­ual stud­ies have been in­con­sis­tent, pos­si­bly due to dif­fer­ences in meth­ods such as the type of hear­ing as­sess­ment used. It’s also not clear how age-re­lated hear­ing loss and cog­ni­tive de­cline are re­lated, and the study wasn’t a con­trolled ex­per­i­ment de­signed to an­swer this ques­tion. Re­sults from the study in the UK, where hear­ing aids may be cov­ered by the Na­tional Health Ser­vice, may dif­fer from what would hap­pen in the US and other coun­tries where many peo­ple may need to pay out-of­pocket for hear­ing aids.

Still, the re­sults sug­gest it would make sense to screen peo­ple 50 and older for hear­ing loss and treat it as early as pos­si­ble to po­ten­tially de­lay or pre­vent the on­set of de­men­tia or cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment, said Dr Francesco Panza of the Univer­sity of Bari Aldo Moro in Italy. “Age-re­lated hear­ing loss may rep­re­sent a mod­i­fi­able con­di­tion and a pos­si­ble tar­get for sec­ondary pre­ven­tion of cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment in older age, so­cial iso­la­tion, late-life de­pres­sion, and frailty,” Panza, who wasn’t in­volved in the study, said by email.

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