Cognition Declines Tied to Hearing Loss Begin Early

Cognitive impairment starts as soon as hearing becomes imperfect, suggesting need for earlier testing, treatment


FRIDAY, Nov. 22, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Declines in cognition are seen even in individuals with subclinical aged-related hearing loss, according to a study published online Nov. 14 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Justin S. Golub, M.D., from Columbia University in New York City, and colleagues used data from the Hispanic Community Health Study (HCHS; 2008 to 2011) and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES; 1999 to 2000, 2001 to 2002, and 2011 to 2012) to evaluate the association between hearing and cognition among 6,451 individuals (≥50 years) traditionally classified as having normal hearing.

The researchers observed a significant inverse association between hearing and cognition across the entire spectrum of hearing after adjusting for demographics and cardiovascular disease. When stratifying by the classic binary definition of hearing loss, decreased hearing was independently associated with decreased cognition in adults with normal hearing (pure-tone average ≤25 dB) across all cognitive tests in the HCHS. A 10-dB decrease in hearing was associated with a clinically meaningful 1.97-point (95 percent confidence interval, 1.18 to 2.75) decline in the Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST) score. With a stricter hearing loss cut point (15 dB), there was also an association in the NHANES group. In a combined cohort, there was a 2.28-point (95 percent confidence interval, 1.56 to 3.00) DSST score decrease per 10-dB decrease among individuals with normal hearing and a 0.97-point (95 percent confidence interval, 0.20 to 1.75) decrease among those with hearing loss.

"Hearing loss is not benign," Golub said in a statement. "It has been linked to social isolation, depression, cognitive decline, and dementia. Hearing loss should be treated. This study suggests the earlier, the better."

One author disclosed financial ties to the hearing technology industry.

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