Hearing Loss Linked to Multiple Health Problems

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Most of us will lose some of our ability to hear as we age. But hearing loss may pose a previously overlooked risk, according to recently published research.

Three separate studies found that older adults with hearing loss may be “more sedentary and more likely to experience worsening physical function than those without hearing loss,” according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which supported the studies.

In one study, researchers looked at adults between the ages of 60 and 69 and found that people with hearing loss on average were sedentary for about 34 more minutes each day than those with no hearing loss. As hearing loss severity increased, so did lack of activity.

A second study found that people with hearing loss were more likely to have worse scores for physical function, balance and walking speed. These researchers also found that over an eight-year period, those with hearing loss had a faster rate of physical decline than those with normal hearing.

A third study found that people with moderate or greater hearing loss declined faster in terms of physical function over six years than those with normal hearing. These researchers also found that people in their study who wore hearing aids had better walking endurance than those with untreated hearing loss.

All three studies were led by researchers at the NIA and Johns Hopkins University and published in JAMA Network Open or the Journals of Gerontology.

The researchers caution that while there is an association between hearing loss and physical activity, it remains unknown whether hearing loss actually triggers a decline in physical activity or function.

The link between hearing loss and more sedentary behavior underscores the importance of treating the condition. About two-thirds of adults age 70 or older have difficulty hearing, according to the NIA.

Regular physical activity is vital to healthy aging, the NIA notes. Living a more sedentary life can increase the risk of health problems later in life.

The NIA notes that hearing loss can be treated successfully through:

  • Wearing hearing aids
  • Using assistive-listening devices
  • Undergoing surgery to implant a small electronic device near the ear

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