Study Results Link Hearing, Vision Losses to Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults

Analysis shows that half of individuals with both these sensory losses are cognitively impaired, investigators say.

Hearing and vision impairment may be independently linked with cognitive issues, according to the results of a nationally representative study published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

After considering age, sex, and other socio-demographic characteristics, older individuals with hearing loss had more than double the odds of cognitive impairment, investigators found.

Additionally, those with vision loss had more than triple the odds of cognitive impairment.

Furthermore, when older individuals experienced both hearing and vision impairment, the odds of cognitive issues increased by 8-fold.

“Given that half of adults with both vision and hearing loss experience serious cognitive problems, sensory loss could be used to help identify those at risk for cognitive decline and dementia,” Esme Fuller-Thomson, director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging at University of Toronto, said in a statement.

This study was based on 10 consecutive waves of the American Community Survey between 2008 and 2017, a notionally representative annual survey of approximately half a million Americans who were aged 65 years and older.

A total of 5.4 million Americans were included in the study, which included both community-dwelling and institutionalized older adults.

Half of older adults with both hearing and vison impairment had cognitive issues compared with 28% with just vision impairment, 20% with just hearing impairment, and 7% with no sensory impairments, investigators found.

“Dual-sensory impairment prevents an individual from compensating for the loss of one sense through the use of another,” Aliya Nowczynski, a recent University of Toronto masters of social work (MSW) graduate, said in the statement. “Our findings emphasize the need to reach out to older adults with dual-sensory impairment to assess whether there are opportunities for early intervention.”

The investigators emphasize the importance of considering treatment options for sensory impairment to support the cognitive health of older adults.

Several possible theories could explain this association between cognitive and sensory impairment, including cognitive deterioration related to decreased auditory and visual input and social disengagement and loneliness related to age-related degeneration of the central nervous system and problems communicating.

Further research is needed to determine if the association is causal, and the determining the mechanisms that underlie the relationship may help guide next steps for older individuals, investigators said.

“It is important that we consider the accessibility of common treatments for sensory impairment, such as hearing aids and cataract surgery” Andie MacNeil, a recent University of Toronto MSW graduate, said in the statement.

“It is possible that those who have difficulty accessing these treatment options will be more vulnerable to cognitive impairment. More research is needed to determine whether interventions for sensory impairment decrease the risk of subsequent cognitive decline,” MacNeil said.

Reference

Hearing and vision impairment linked to serious cognitive impairment in older adults. EurekAlert. News release. May 4, 2022. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/951576