Association of the use of hearing aids with the conversion from mild cognitive impairment to dementia and progression of dementia: A longitudinal retrospective study

Alzheimers Dement (N Y). 2021 Feb 14;7(1):e12122. doi: 10.1002/trc2.12122. eCollection 2021.


Introduction: Hearing aid usage has been linked to improvements in cognition, communication, and socialization, but the extent to which it can affect the incidence and progression of dementia is unknown. Such research is vital given the high prevalence of dementia and hearing impairment in older adults, and the fact that both conditions often coexist. In this study, we examined for the first time the effect of the use of hearing aids on the conversion from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to dementia and progression of dementia.

Methods: We used a large referral-based cohort of 2114 hearing-impaired patients obtained from the National Alzheimer's Coordinating Center. Survival analyses using multivariable Cox proportional hazards regression model and weighted Cox regression model with censored data were performed to assess the effect of hearing aid use on the risk of conversion from MCI to dementia and risk of death in hearing-impaired participants. Disease progression was assessed with Clinical Dementia Rating Sum of Boxes (CDR-SB) scores. Three types of sensitivity analyses were performed to validate the robustness of the results.

Results: MCI participants that used hearing aids were at significantly lower risk of developing all-cause dementia compared to those not using hearing aids (hazard ratio [HR] 0.73, 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.61 to 0.89; false discovery rate [FDR] P = 0.004). The mean annual rate of change (standard deviation) in CDR-SB scores for hearing aid users with MCI was 1.3 (1.45) points and significantly lower than for individuals not wearing hearing aids with a 1.7 (1.95) point increase in CDR-SB per year (P = 0.02). No association between hearing aid use and risk of death was observed. Our findings were robust subject to sensitivity analyses.

Discussion: Among hearing-impaired adults, hearing aid use was independently associated with reduced dementia risk. The causality between hearing aid use and incident dementia should be further tested.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; National Alzheimer's Coordinating Center; cognitive decline; dementia; dementia incidence; dementia onset; disease progression; hearing aid; hearing impairment; hearing loss; mild cognitive impairment; risk factor.

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