- Published: 11 July 2016
Impact of hearing loss on the whole person
A 25-year study of self-reported hearing loss in France describes how hearing loss can impact a person, including memory loss and cognitive decline. The study began in 1990 and included 3,670 participants. This research was designed to study brain aging, and the 25-year follow up with the participants was used to assess the relationship between hearing loss and long-term, age-related, cognitive decline.
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition affecting older people. It is estimated that 30% of older adults age 65 and older have some degree of hearing loss and approximately 70% to 90% of persons 85 and older have hearing loss. Those with hearing loss often experience social isolation and depressive symptoms. Evidence also demonstrates that older adults with hearing loss have poorer cognitive performance. In two longitudinal studies, hearing loss and cognitive decline were associated over six years of follow-up. While the high prevalence of hearing loss and its consequences on health outcomes is commonly understood, hearing loss is largely underdiagnosed and therefore undertreated. Nearly two-thirds of older persons with impaired hearing do not use hearing aids.
The study used a short questionnaire at the outset with each person to establish a baseline, and the participants were evaluated at home 11 times over the 25-year period after the initial visit. Participants were asked about their hearing trouble, if they had trouble following conversations with more than one person participating, as well as how background noise impacted their ability to hear. Some had hearing aids and some did not. The evaluations also assessed cognitive performance and complaints, functional ability, and symptoms of depression. While the study design used observational results that were self-reported, its strengths include the length of time the study followed participants and the cohort of a large number of people who were randomly selected.
The study concludes that hearing loss is associated with accelerated cognitive decline and that hearing aid use reduces such cognitive decline. While the progression of hearing loss is an individual process, the study underscores the importance of addressing one’s hearing as part of overall physical health and well-being. Talk about hearing issues with your practitioner so any issues can be properly evaluated by clinical specialists, diagnosed, and treated appropriately. As hearing loss impacts social isolation, take a proactive approach to addressing hearing loss. As hearing aids are costly, it is important to understand the type of hearing loss you have and to be a smart consumer in any purchases of assistive device to improve hearing.
For more consumer information regarding hearing loss and hearing aids, go to: www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/mcdhh/programs/hearing-dogs/hearing-aids.html