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Are Hearing Loss, Mental Decline Related?

TUESDAY, Feb. 12, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Dementia is hard to predict, but hearing loss might signal a higher risk, a new study suggests.

The eight-year study adds to growing evidence of a link between hearing loss and mental decline.

But don't panic if you no longer can hear the doorbell. The study only points to an association, not cause and effect.

"Our findings show that hearing loss is associated with new onset of subjective cognitive concerns which may be indicative of early stage changes in [mental function]," said lead author Dr. Sharon Curhan. She's a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston.

"Dementia is a substantial public health challenge that continues to grow. There is no cure, and effective treatments to prevent progression or reverse the course of dementia are lacking," Curhan said in a hospital news release. These findings may help identify people at greater risk, she added.

The study included more than 10,000 men, 62 and older, who were asked about their mental (cognitive) functioning in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

The answers were subjective. Still, compared to those without hearing loss, risk of mental decline was 30 percent higher among men with mild hearing loss. It was 42 percent higher among men with moderate hearing loss, and 54 percent higher among men who had severe hearing loss but did not use hearing aids, researchers found.

Men with severe hearing loss who used hearing aids had a 37 percent increased risk of mental decline, but this was not statistically significantly different from the risk among those who did not use hearing aids, according to the researchers.

Hearing loss affects tens of millions of Americans. Its prevalence is expected to rise globally as the world's population ages.

"Whether there is a temporal association between hearing loss and cognitive decline and whether this relation is causal remains unclear," Curhan said. Additional studies will provide more insight, she added.

The study was recently published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on age-related hearing loss.

SOURCE: Brigham and Women's Hospital, news release, January 2019

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