Objective: To determine the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive function as assessed with a standardized neurocognitive battery. We hypothesized a priori that greater hearing loss is associated with lower cognitive test scores on tests of memory and executive function.
Method: A cross-sectional cohort of 347 participants ≥ 55 years in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging without mild cognitive impairment or dementia had audiometric and cognitive testing performed in 1990-1994. Hearing loss was defined by an average of hearing thresholds at 0.5, 1, 2, and 4 kHz in the better-hearing ear. Cognitive testing consisted of a standardized neurocognitive battery incorporating tests of mental status, memory, executive function, processing speed, and verbal function. Regression models were used to examine the association between hearing loss and cognition while adjusting for confounders.
Results: Greater hearing loss was significantly associated with lower scores on measures of mental status (Mini-Mental State Exam), memory (Free Recall), and executive function (Stroop Mixed, Trail Making B). These results were robust to analyses accounting for potential confounders, nonlinear effects of age, and exclusion of individuals with severe hearing loss. The reduction in cognitive performance associated with a 25 dB hearing loss was equivalent to the reduction associated with an age difference of 6.8 years.
Conclusion: Hearing loss is independently associated with lower scores on tests of memory and executive function. Further research examining the longitudinal association of hearing loss with cognitive functioning is needed to confirm these cross-sectional findings.