Some degree of hearing loss affects approximately 30 percent of those age 65 and better and between 70 and 90 percent of those 85 and better. Unfortunately, hearing loss has also been associated with a number of negative outcomes, ranging from social isolation and lower quality of life to cognitive and physical health conditions. Recently, a major longitudinal study looked at the impact of hearing loss on 3,777 older adults over a 25-year period. This study focused on four of the most consequential potential outcomes associated with hearing loss: death, dementia, depression, and disability.
All participants were 65 or better at the start of the study, with 36 percent reporting hearing trouble at that time. Of the 1,289 reporting hearing difficulty, only 179 were using hearing aids. After adjusting for demographics and other health issues, the study found that hearing loss without the use of a hearing aid at baseline was associated with an increased risk of dementia and disability in activities of daily living (ADLs). While not statistically significant, a trend toward greater risk of disability for independent activities of daily living (IADLs) was also noted. There was no association of hearing loss with mortality risk observed. No increased risk of disability (both in IADLs and ADLs) or dementia was observed for individuals with hearing loss who used hearing aids.
Additionally, for men with hearing problems but no hearing aids, there was an increased risk of depression. The researchers suggested this may be due to sex differences in the frequencies of sound affected by hearing loss. Men show more loss above 1 kHz, in the frequencies most important for speech comprehension, which could lead to their hearing loss having great social consequences that could lead to depression.
All of the above suggests that the widespread phenomenon of hearing loss in older adults can have significant health impacts. It also highlights the need for greater hearing loss screening and adoption of hearing aids in order for older adults to reduce or eliminate the risks shown above.
Amieva H, Ouvrard C, Meillon C, et al. Death, depression, disability, and dementia associated with self-reported hearing problems: a 25-year study. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A. (2018). DOI:10.1093/gerona/glx250