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New research reveals a startling link between hearing loss and dementia in older people

New research reveals a startling link between hearing loss and dementia in older people

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A recent study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that older people with severe hearing loss were more likely to have dementia, but the likelihood of dementia was lower among hearing aid users compared with those who do not use them. The study, which analyzed a nationally representative sample of more than 2,400 older adults, supports previous research suggesting that hearing loss may be a contributing factor to the risk of dementia over time and that treating hearing loss may reduce the risk of dementia.

The findings highlight the potential benefit of hearing aids.

A new study found that older people with greater severity of hearing loss were more likely to have dementia, but the likelihood of dementia was lower among hearing aid users compared to non-users. Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health led the study.

The findings from a nationally representative sample of more than 2,400 older adults are consistent with previous studies showing that hearing loss can be a contributing factor to the risk of dementia over time and that treating hearing loss can reduce the risk of dementia.

The findings are highlighted in a research letter published online on January 10, 2023 in Journal of the American Medical Association.

“This study clarifies what we’ve observed about the relationship between hearing loss and dementia, and builds support for public health action to improve access to hearing care,” said lead author Alison Huang, PhD, MPH, senior research fellow in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Epidemiology and the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, also at the Bloomberg School.

Hearing loss is a critical public health problem, affecting two-thirds of Americans over age 70. The growing understanding that hearing loss may be associated with the risk of dementia, which affects millions, and other adverse outcomes, has drawn attention to the implementation of possible strategies to treat hearing loss.

For the new study, Huang and colleagues analyzed a nationally representative data set from the National Health and Aging Trends Survey (NHATS). Funded by the National Institute on Aging, NHATS has been ongoing since 2011 and uses a national sample of Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older, with an emphasis on the 90-and-older group as well as black individuals.

The analysis involved 2,413 individuals, about half of whom were over 80, and showed a clear link between the severity of hearing loss and dementia. The prevalence of dementia among participants with moderate/severe hearing loss was 61% higher than the prevalence among participants with normal hearing. Hearing aid use was associated with a 32% lower prevalence of dementia in 853 participants who had moderate/severe hearing loss.

The authors note that many past studies were limited because they relied on clinic-based data collection, missing out on vulnerable populations who did not have the means or capacity to get to a clinic. For their study, the researchers collected data from participants through home tests and interviews.

It is not yet clear how hearing loss is related to dementia, and studies point to several possible mechanisms. Huang’s research complements work by Cochlear’s Center for Hearing and Public Health examining the link between hearing loss and dementia.

The study authors expect to have a more complete picture of the effect of hearing loss treatment on cognition and dementia from their Aging and Cognitive Health Evaluation in Adults (ACHIEVE) study. The results of the three-year randomized trial are expected this year.

“Hearing Loss and Prevalence of Dementia in Older Adults in the United States” was co-authored by Alison Huang, Kenning Jiang, Frank Lin, Jennifer Diehl, and Nicholas Reed.

Reference: “Prevalence of Hearing Loss and Dementia in the US Elderly” by Alison R. Huang, PhD; Kening Jiang, MHS; Frank R. Lynn, MD, PhD; Jennifer A. Diehl, PhD and Nicholas S. Reid, AuD, 10 Jan 2023, JAMA.
DOI: 10.1001/jama.2022.20954

Research support was provided by the National Institute on Aging (K23AG065443, K01AG054693).

Reported co-author disclosures: Nicholas Reed, AuD, serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of Neosensory. Frank Lin, MD, PhD, is a consultant to Frequency Therapeutics and Apple and director of a research center funded in part by a philanthropic gift from Cochlear Ltd to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Lynn also serves on the board of the nonprofit organization Access HEARS.




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