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October 18, 2016

Undiagnosed hearing loss in seniors may increase social isolation

People between 60-69 years with undiagnosed or untreated hearing problems are more likely to suffer from social isolation and cognitive impairment.

Undiagnosed hearing loss in seniors may increase social isolation

A study conducted at the University of British Columbia, UBC Okanagan in Canada has found that unacknowledged or unaddressed hearing loss is associated with a significantly increased risk of social isolation among people between 60-69 years. The researchers found that for every 10 dB drop in hearing sensitivity, the risk of social isolation increased by 52%.

Increased cognitive decline

The UBC-study also found that undiagnosed hearing problems are associated with cognitive declines equivalent to almost four years of chronological aging.

“Hearing loss is often not thought of as a public health issue and as a result there are often not a lot of health care resources that have been put towards testing and hearing support. As social isolation has been shown to have similar impacts on mortality rates as smoking and alcohol consumption, this is something we should examine further at both the system and individual patient level,” says Dr. Paul Mick, a physician and clinical assistant professor at the UBC’s Southern Medical Program.

Better cognition with hearing aids

Research led by Professor Hélène Amieva, Université Victor Segalen Bordeaux in France has previously documented that hearing loss accelerates cognitive decline in elderly adults. The study found that the use of hearing aids counters this acceleration as those who have hearing problems and use hearing aids have about the same cognitive level as those with no hearing loss.

Another study from John Hopkins University in the US has also found that undiagnosed hearing loss may have a profoundly detrimental effect on the physical and mental well-being of older adults making them more likely to require hospitalization and to suffer from periods of inactivity and depression.

About the study

The UBC-study examined data collected between 1999 and 2010 by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which samples 5,000 people each year across the United States.

The study was published in the journal Ear and Hearing.

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