Hearing loss may accelerate the decline of brain function, says a new report by Johns Hopkins researchers. Older adults with even mild to moderate hearing loss may experience cognitive decline up to 41 percent—or about three years—faster than folks with normal hearing.

The study, involving 1,984 men and women ages 75 to 84, couldn't establish a direct link between hearing loss and cognitive impairment, but suggests why there may be a connection, including the lack of socialization among people with poor hearing.

Social isolation and loneliness are also associated with cognitive decline. Or it could be that the brain is dedicating more resources toward processing sound while short-changing other processes like memory and thinking. Some common underlying damage might also be the cause of both hearing and cognitive damage.

Using a hearing aid seemed to reduce risk but not significantly. The researchers recommend that doctors be more proactive in discussing hearing with patients and take steps to address any decline.

Source: JAMA Internal Medicine, vol. 173, p. 293; Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 29 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 13 Jan 2015