Elderly patients who experience age-related hearing loss (ARHL) may be at greater risk for cognitive decline and impairment compared with elderly patients with no hearing loss, according to findings from a systematic review published in JAMA Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery.
The number of dementia cases in this study was small, possibly limiting the overall power of the findings. In addition, the investigators were unable to determine causal factors associated with ARHL and cognitive decline, as the meta-analyses were performed for observational study data.
In this review and meta-analysis, researchers searched online research databases for cohort and cross-sectional studies assessing ARHL and associated cognitive outcomes. A total of 36 studies were included in this meta-analysis (n=20,264).
Researchers found a significant association for ARHL and executive functions (range, r=−0.08 [95% CI, −0.12 to −0.04] to r=−0.18 [95% CI, −0.25 to −0.10), processing speed (r=−0.13; 95% CI, −0.18 to 0.08), semantic memory (r=−0.14; 95% CI, −0.20 to −0.08), visuospatial ability (r = −0.11; 95% CI, −0.19 to −0.03), and global cognition (r=−0.15; 95% CI, −0.18 to −0.11) in the cross-sectional studies.
In addition, an association was found between ARHL and cognitive impairment (odds ratio, 2.00; 95% CI, 1.39-2.89) and dementia (odds ratio, 2.42; 95% CI, 1.24-4.72). According to the investigators, consistent findings within the included studies suggest that impaired verbal communication, as well as vascular function, are potential key contributors to the association between ARHL and cognitive function decline.
Considering that this study demonstrates an association between ARHL and potentially higher cognitive disease burden, the investigators suggest primary healthcare practitioners "would benefit from standard guidelines for screening and referring patients with hearing loss."