Addressing midlife hearing loss could prevent up to 9% of new cases of dementia, the highest of any potentially modifiable risk factor identified in the 2017 commissioned report in The Lancet. In Australia, hearing loss is the second-most common chronic health condition in older people, affecting 74% of people aged over 70. Estimates indicate that people with severe hearing loss are up to 5-times more likely to develop dementia, but these estimates vary between studies due to methodological limitations. Using data from the Sydney Memory and Aging Study, in which 1,037 Australian men and women aged between 70 and 90 years were enrolled and completed biennial assessments from 2005-2017, investigations between hearing loss and baseline cognitive performance as well as longitudinal risk of neurocognitive disorder were undertaken. Individuals who reported moderate-to-severe hearing difficulties had poorer cognitive performances in the domains of Attention/Processing Speed and Visuospatial Ability, and on an overall index of Global Cognition, and had a 1.5-times greater risk for the neurocognitive disorder during 6-years’ follow-up. Hearing loss independently predicted risk for MCI but not dementia. The presence of hearing loss is an important consideration for neuropsychological case formulation in older adults with cognitive impairment. Hearing loss may increase cognitive load, resulting in observable cognitive impairment on neuropsychological testing. Individuals with hearing loss who demonstrate impairment in non-amnestic domains may experience benefits from the provision of hearing devices; This study provides support for a randomized control trial of hearing devices for improvement of cognitive function in this group.
- mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
- Alzheimer’s disease
- cognitive decline
- age-related hearing loss