A novel study on association between untreated hearing loss and cognitive functions of older adults: Baseline non-verbal cognitive assessment results

Clin Otolaryngol. 2018 Feb;43(1):182-191. doi: 10.1111/coa.12937. Epub 2017 Aug 1.


Background: Age-related hearing loss (ARHL) is highly prevalent in older adults, and more than two-thirds above age of 70 years suffer from ARHL. Recent studies have established a link between ARHL and cognitive impairment; however, most of the studies have used verbally loaded cognitive measures to investigate the association between ARHL and cognition. It is possible that due to hearing impairment, the elderly may experience difficulty in following verbal instructions or completing tasks that heavily rely on hearing during cognitive assessments. This may result in overestimation of cognitive impairment in such individuals. This baseline cross-sectional study investigated the associations between untreated hearing loss and a number of cognitive functions using a battery of non-verbal cognitive tests. Further, association between hearing loss and psychological status of older adults was examined.

Study design: Prospective case-controlled study.

Methods: A total of 119 participants (54 males, M=66.33±10.50 years; 65 females M=61.51±11.46 years) were recruited. All participants completed a hearing assessment, a computerised test battery of non-verbal cognitive functions and the depression, anxiety and stress scale.

Results: Hierarchical multiple regression analysis results revealed that hearing thresholds significantly associated with the working memory (P<0.05), paired associative learning scores (P<0.05), depression (P<0.001), and anxiety (P<0.001) and stress (P<0.001) scores. Analysis of covariance results revealed that participants with moderately-severe hearing loss performed significantly poorer in paired associative learning and working memory tasks and psychological function tests compared to those with normal hearing.

Conclusion: Results of the current study suggest a significant relationship between ARHL and both cognition and psychological status. Our results also have some implications for using non-verbal cognitive tests to evaluate cognitive functions in post-lingually hearing impaired ageing adults, at least for those with more than moderately-severe levels of hearing loss.

Keywords: anxiety; cognition; depression; hearing loss; stress.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hearing Loss / complications*
  • Hearing Loss / epidemiology
  • Hearing Loss / psychology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Western Australia / epidemiology