Objectives: To examine whether hearing acuity correlates with walking ability and whether impaired hearing at baseline predicts new self-reported walking difficulties after 3 years.
Design: Prospective follow-up.
Setting: Research laboratory and community.
Participants: Four hundred thirty-four women aged 63 to 76.
Measurements: Hearing was measured using clinical audiometry. A person was defined as having a hearing impairment if a pure-tone average of thresholds at 0.5 to 4 kHz in the better ear was 21 dB or greater. Maximal walking speed was measured over 10 m (m/s), walking endurance as the distance (m), covered in 6 minutes and difficulties in walking 2 km according to self-report.
Results: At baseline, women with hearing impairment (n=179) had slower maximal walking speed (1.7 +/- 0.3 m/s vs 1.8 +/- 0.3 m/s, P=.007), lower walking endurance (520 +/- 75 m vs 536 +/- 75 m, P=.08), and more selfreported major difficulties in walking 2 km (12.8% vs 5.5%, P=.02) than those without hearing impairment. During follow-up, major walking difficulties developed for 33 participants. Women with hearing impairment at baseline had a twice the age-adjusted risk for new walking difficulties as those without hearing impairment (odds ratio=2.04, 95% confidence interval=0.96-4.33).
Conclusion: Hearing acuity correlated with mobility, which may be explained by the association between impaired hearing and poor balance and greater risk for falls, both of which underlie decline in mobility. Prevention of hearing loss is not only important for the ability to communicate, but may also have more wide-ranging influences on functional ability.