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Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health

Hearing Loss in Senior Citizens Once Again Linked With Development of Dementia

Risk of developing Alzheimer's disease also increased with hearing loss - for every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the extra risk increased by 20%

Feb. 14, 2011 – For years researchers have been finding an association between hearing loss in senior citizens and dementia, yet, loss of hearing is seldom found in any list of dementia or Alzheimer’s warning signs. The latest study to be published also finds older adults with hearing loss appear more likely to develop dementia and the risk increases as hearing loss become more severe.

The latest report is in the February issue of Archives of Neurology, on the JAMA/Archives journals. Another study published in JAMA 22 years ago this month - Relationship of Hearing Impairment to Dementia and Cognitive Dysfunction in Older Adults - concluded there is an association between hearing impairment and dementia and offered support to the hypothesis that hearing impairment contributes to cognitive dysfunction in older adults.

 

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Senior Citizens with Problem Processing Sounds More Likely to Have Dementia

Central auditory processing tests were significantly lower in the group with dementia

July 22, 2008 - Mild memory impairment may be associated with central auditory processing dysfunction, or difficulty hearing in complex situations with competing noise, such as hearing a single conversation amid several other conversations, according to a report in the July issue of Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. Read more...


Read the latest news on Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health

 

By the year 2050, an estimated 100 million people or nearly one in 85 individuals worldwide will be affected by dementia, according to background information in the article. Interventions that could delay the onset of dementia by even one year could lead to a more than 10 percent decrease in the prevalence of dementia in 2050, the authors note.

"Unfortunately, there are no known interventions that currently have such effectiveness," the report says.

"Epidemiologic approaches have focused on the identification of putative risk factors (factors believed to exist) that could be targeted for prevention, based on the assumption that dementia is easier to prevent than to reverse. Candidate factors include low involvement in leisure activities and social interactions, sedentary state, diabetes mellitus and hypertension."

Researchers at John Hopkins Medical, Baltimore, were led by Frank R. Lin, M.D., Ph.D., in a quest to determine if hearing loss could be identified as a risk factor for dementia. If so, it might then provide a way to slow the development of mental disease by slowing the development of hearing loss.

They studied 639 individuals age 36 to 90 without dementia. Participants initially underwent cognitive and hearing testing between 1990 and 1994 and were followed for the development of dementia and Alzheimer's disease through May 31, 2008.

Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. Approximately 17 percent, or 36 million, of American adults say that they have some degree of hearing loss, according to NIH Senior Health’s section on hearing loss. Roughly one-third of Americans 65 to 74 years of age and 47 percent of those 75 and older have hearing loss. Men are more likely to experience hearing loss than women.

Of the participants in this study - 
   ● 125 had mild hearing loss (25 to 40 decibels),
   ● 53 had moderate hearing loss (41 to 70 decibels) and
   ● six had severe hearing loss (more than 70 decibels).

During a median (midpoint) follow-up of 11.9 years, 58 individuals were diagnosed with dementia, including 37 who had Alzheimer's disease.

The risk of dementia was increased among those with hearing loss of greater than 25 decibels, with further increases in risk observed among those with moderate or severe hearing loss as compared with mild hearing loss.

For participants age 60 and older, more than one-third (36.4 percent) of the risk of dementia was associated with hearing loss.

The risk of developing Alzheimer's disease specifically also increased with hearing loss, such that for every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the extra risk increased by 20 percent.

There was no association between self-reported use of hearing aids and a reduction in dementia or Alzheimer's disease risk.

"A number of mechanisms may be theoretically implicated in the observed association between hearing loss and incident dementia," the authors write.

Dementia may be over-diagnosed in individuals with hearing loss, or those with cognitive impairment may be over-diagnosed with hearing loss. The two conditions may share an underlying neuropathologic process.

"Finally, hearing loss may be casually related to dementia, possibly through exhaustion of cognitive reserve, social isolation, environmental deafferentation [elimination of sensory nerve fibers] or a combination of these pathways."

"If confirmed in other independent cohorts, the findings of our study could have substantial implications for individuals and public health. Hearing loss in older adults may be preventable and can be practically addressed with current technology (e.g., digital hearing aids and cochlear implants) and with other rehabilitative interventions focusing on optimizing social and environmental conditions for hearing.

“With the increasing number of people with hearing loss, research into the mechanistic pathways linking hearing loss with dementia and the potential of rehabilitative strategies to moderate this association are critically needed."

The research was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Aging and a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

>> NIH Senior Health – Hearing Loss

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