Loss of Hearing Linked to Dementia Risk in Seniors

by Matthew Karr, Esq. on February 25, 2013

Loss of hearing may be directly related to the development of dementia, according to a recent New York Times article quoting a study by Dr. Frank Lin, an otolaryngologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

In a 2011 paper in The Archives of Neurology, Dr. Lin looked at 639 subjects over a span of 18 years, finding a strong association between the two ailments. “Compared to individuals with normal hearing, those individuals with a mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss, respectively, had a 2-, 3- and 5-fold increased risk of developing dementia over the course of the study,” Dr. Lin wrote in an e-mail summarizing the results. The worse the hearing loss, the greater the risk of developing dementia. The correlation remained true even when age, diabetes and hypertension — other conditions associated with dementia — were ruled out.

These findings were supported by another study completed last month, in which Dr. Lin and colleagues looked at 1,984 older adults, finding that those with hearing loss had a “30 to 40 percent faster rate of loss of thinking and memory abilities” over a six-year period compared with people with normal hearing.

While the reason for the correlation is not entirely clear, Dr. Lin notes that isolation, which may come with hearing loss, is a known risk factor for dementia. This is certainly unwelcome news for those with hearing loss, however, should studies establish definitively that correcting hearing loss decreases the potential for early-onset dementia, there may be hope for those suffering form or at risk for this terrible disease.

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