10 Jan Johns Hopkins Study Strengthens Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
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MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Alison R. Huang, PhD MPH
Senior Research Associate
Cochlear Center for Hearing & Public Health
Department of Epidemiology
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Hearing loss is a critical public health issue affecting two-thirds of older adults over 70 years old. There is growing understanding of a strong link between hearing loss and dementia, which impacts millions of Americans.
Our main findings are that in a nationally representative sample of older adults in the United States from the National Health and Aging Trends Study, every 10 decibel increase in hearing loss was associated with 16% greater prevalence of dementia, such that prevalence of dementia in older adults with moderate or greater hearing loss was 61% higher than prevalence in those with normal hearing.
We also found that in older adults with moderate or greater hearing loss, hearing aid use was associated with a 32% lower prevalence of dementia.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: This study refines what we have observed about the link between hearing loss and dementia and also builds support for public health action to improve hearing care access. What this study adds and what makes it unique is that data were collected through in-home interviews. Meaning, this study was able to capture more vulnerable populations, such as the oldest old and older adults with disabilities, typically excluded from prior epidemiologic studies of the hearing loss – dementia association that use clinic-based data collection, which only captures people who have the ability and means to get to clinics.
With this study, we were able to refine our understanding of the strength of the hearing loss – dementia association in a study more representative of older adults in the United States.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a results of this study?
Response: While we’re encouraged by seeing an association between hearing aid use and lower prevalence of dementia, more work is needed to definitively test the effect of hearing aid use. Hearing aid users are more likely to be healthier and wealthier and, in this study, it’s difficult to disentangle whether what we’re seeing is due to the hearing aid itself or other factors. What we really need is a randomized trial and fortunately, we have the ACHIEVE (Aging and Cognitive Health Evaluation in Elders) Trial, funded by the National Institute on Aging and led by Drs. Frank Lin and Josef Coresh, that tests the effect of best practices hearing treatment vs. a successful aging education control on cognition. This trial just closed last month and results will be available later this year.
Huang AR, Jiang K, Lin FR, Deal JA, Reed NS. Hearing Loss and Dementia Prevalence in Older Adults in the US. JAMA. 2023;329(2):171–173. doi:10.1001/jama.2022.20954
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