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Is Age-related Hearing Loss a Warning Sign for Dementia?

Recent research from Ireland has investigated whether age-related hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline, cognitive impairment, and dementia.

Adults older than 65 years of age often experience a disabling hearing loss. There are cohort studies that have shown that age-related hearing loss (ARHL) precedes the onset of clinical dementia by 5 to 10 years, are considered as a possible noninvasive biomarker, and might offer a pathway to modify clinical outcomes.

However, epidemiologic research on the possible link between age-related hearing loss and cognitive decline as well as dementia provided inconsistent results. More research is needed to understand the relationship between age-related hearing loss and dementia.

A study published in JAMA Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery examined and estimated the association between age-related hearing loss and cognitive function, cognitive impairment, and dementia. The authors conducted a systemic review and meta-analysis of the available research. The primary outcomes and measures of the study were to measure the hearing loss by pure-tone audiometry only and to objectively assess cognitive function, impairment, and dementia. Their results were based on 36 epidemiologic studies including 20,264 unique participants.

Loughrey and colleagues’ results indicated that age-related hearing loss was significantly associated with a decline in all main cognitive domains. Age-related hearing loss is also associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.

Hence, age-related hearing loss is a possible biomarker and modifiable risk factor for cognitive decline, cognitive impairment, and dementia. This important study has implications for the treatment of age-related hearing loss. Further research will be necessary to understand this relationship and identify the mechanisms involved.

Written by Alexa Deano

Reference: Loughrey, David G., et al. “Association of age-related hearing loss with cognitive function, cognitive impairment, and dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery (2017).

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