Hearing loss linked to other ailments in elderly

Washington : Hearing loss can be linked to mental, physical, and social ailments in older people, a recent study suggests.Hearing loss is the world’s fourth-leading cause of years lived with disability.

According to the research, the condition may worsen an array of mental, physical, and social complications. As over 90 per cent of hearing loss is age-related, its burden is notably growing amid aging populations.

Hearing ability is integrally tied with communication, and hearing loss leads to communication barriers. This, in turn, increases stress and restricts the ability to venture outdoors. It may also be tied with cognitive decline and dementia.

A team of Japanese researchers centered at the University of Tsukuba sought to shed further light on the relation of hearing loss and other illnesses among older people.

They examined three key areas and found hearing loss had a clear link with all three, especially memory loss. The researchers reported their findings in the journal — Geriatrics and Gerontology International.

The team took advantage of the large-scale 2016 Comprehensive Survey of Living Conditions of Japan, a nationwide, population-based cross-sectional questionnaire of more than 220,000 households.

From this, they targeted 137,723 survey respondents aged 65 or older and without dementia. The survey’s self-reported responses on conditions including hearing loss allowed valuable comparisons to be made.

“Japan is the world’s most rapidly aging country, and this is a large and compelling data set of its citizens. It was a solid foundation for examining correlations between hearing loss and three key problems: outdoor activity limitations, psychological distress, and memory loss,” said Masao Iwagami, lead author of the study.

About 9 per cent of the 137,723 survey respondents examined had reported hearing loss. Their responses also showed the condition increased with age.
The researchers further adjusted and refined their analysis to account for factors such as smoking, alcohol intake, and income. The differences between those with and without hearing loss were quite telling.Of those reporting limitations in outdoor activities such as shopping or travel, 28.9 per cent of those with hearing loss were affected vs just 9.5 per cent of those without.

For psychological distress, it was 39.7 per cent vs 19.3 per cent. For memory loss, the gap was the most profound: 37.7 per cent vs 5.2 per cent. These patterns were similar irrespective of age or sex.

According to the team of researchers, hearing loss takes an enormous toll on older people in so many ways, physically and mentally, while limiting activities of daily living. Greater awareness of the burden of hearing loss will help improve their quality of life.

They suggested that measures such as hearing aids and social support by volunteers in the community can also provide them with assistance.