MONDAY, Jan. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Seniors who have trouble hearing may see their thinking skills slip away faster than others do, new research suggests.
The study of older U.S. adults found that those with hearing problems were 24 percent more likely to develop mental impairment over six years.
The Johns Hopkins researchers don't know for sure whether hearing loss directly causes mental decline in some cases -- or whether using hearing aids might help. But they are planning to study that possibility.
"At this point, the particular neural mechanisms -- that is, the 'why' and 'how' -- that link hearing loss to dementia are unclear," said Daniel Polley, of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
What is clear is that older adults should take hearing problems seriously, noted Polley, who was not involved with the study.
"If there is a takeaway to this, it would be to encourage folks to have their hearing tested by a health professional," Polley said.
The findings, which appear in the Jan. 21 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, are based on 1,984 adults in their 70s and 80s who showed no signs of impaired memory or thinking at the study's start. But the majority -- 1,162 in all -- did show some hearing loss.
Over the next six years, 609 men and women developed new signs of mental impairment -- based on a standard test of memory, concentration and language skills. And that risk was 24 percent higher among people who had hearing problems.
The researchers estimate that it would take a hearing-impaired older adult just under eight years, on average, to develop mental impairment, versus 11 years for their peers with normal hearing.
None of that proves cause-and-effect. However, the researchers did account for a number of factors that might have explained the link, such as people's education levels, smoking
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