Possible association between mortality rates and hearing impairment

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A new study appears to indicate that hearing impairment (HI) in older adults may be associated with a shorter lifespan.

Lead researcher Dr Kevin Contrera from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland (USA) and his colleagues found the potential association by analyzing data from the ongoing cross-sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) run by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Center for Health Statistics.

In their nationally representative study sample, the researchers found that overall, 589 study participants had mild HI, 550 had moderate-to-severe HI, and 527 had normal hearing. They looked more closely at a possible association between HI and all-cause mortality in the sample. Older adults with HI are known to have other medical problems (e.g. higher rates of smoking, heart disease, and stroke), but even after correcting for these factors, people with HI had a higher risk of dying over the next six years. In adults 70 years or older, moderate or severe HI was significantly associated with a 54% increased risk of mortality. One explanation that Contrera mentions is the link between HI and poorer physical health and a quicker decline in memory and cognition.

The findings of the study, published online in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery are to be interpreted with great caution according to the authors and other experts. “This is an interesting observation, but it also needs to be taken with a grain of salt,” says Dr Ana Kim, director of otology research at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in New York City, who was not involved in the study. “There are so many variables that go into mortality. It would be too simplistic to say this is because of hearing impairment.”

Source: US News; Contrera KJ, et al. Association of Hearing Impairment and Mortality in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery. Published online.

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