Dementia has been described as the greatest global challenge for health and social care in the 21st century. Engaging in preventive strategies through reduction of modifiable risk factors can be effective in delaying or preventing the disease, reducing healthcare costs, and stemming the immense burden on relatives and supporters of disease sufferers. A growing body of research has shown that hearing loss confers an independent risk of dementia and the highest population attributable fraction for dementia compared to any other individual modifiable risk factor (e.g., physical inactivity, depression). Given that ARHL is highly prevalent, severely undertreated, easily diagnosed, treatable, and precedes the onset of dementia by 5 to 10 years, it is an ideal modifiable risk factor that can be targeted as a preventative strategy for managing dementia.
As many will lose some of hearing ability when aging, hearing loss may pose a previously overlooked risk, according to recently published research.
Three separate studies found that older adults with hearing loss may be “more sedentary and more likely to experience worsening physical function than those without hearing loss,” according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which supported the studies.
In one study, researchers looked at adults between the ages of 60 and 69 and found that people with hearing loss on average were sedentary for about 34 more minutes each day than those with no hearing loss. As hearing loss severity increased, so did lack of activity.
A second study found that people with hearing loss were more likely to have worse scores for physical function, balance and walking speed. These researchers also found that over an eight-year period, those with hearing loss had a faster rate of physical decline than those with normal hearing.
A third study found that people with moderate or greater hearing loss declined faster in terms of physical function over six years than those with normal hearing. These researchers also found that people in their study who wore hearing aids had better walking endurance than those with untreated hearing loss.
All three studies were led by researchers at the NIA and Johns Hopkins University and published in JAMA Network Open or the Journals of Gerontology.
The researchers caution that while there is an association between hearing loss and physical activity, it remains unknown whether hearing loss actually triggers a decline in physical activity or function. The link between hearing loss and more sedentary behavior underscores the importance of treating the condition in aging population.
What to do about Age-Related Hearing Loss
1. Overcome denial of hearing loss As the hearing loss is gradual with aging, some are not aware or deny hearing impairment, which lead to refusing hearing health care and unmanaged hearing impairment. Hearing loss denial is a common problem among seniors, and can be a major barrier to getting proper treatment. Most common reasons include aging denial, underestimating the impact of hearing loss to overall health, mistrust of hearing aids and of course, the cost.
Reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety
Increased number of falls and accidents
Impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks
Diminished psychological and overall health
Potential decrease in cognitive skills
Reduced short-term memory
Higher incidence of dementia
3. Initiate action for hearing loss evaluation Research shows that hearing loss is commonly overlooked in primary care. Be aware of early hearing loss signs and schedule a hearing screening test. Traditional Medicare, unfortunately, does not cover routine audiology testing. Some Medicare Advantage plans may cover audiology.
4. Consider options other than hearing aids, especially for people who aren’t good candidates for hearing aids. Not everyone is a good candidate for hearing aids. Other approaches to amplification and communication can be effective to help with hearing loss, such as assistive devices for phones, TVs and other devices. Undergoing surgery to implant a small electronic device near the ear is also optional.
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