Hearing Impairment Associated With Increased Risk of Death

In a nationally representative sample of adults 70 years or older, moderate or more severe hearing impairment was associated with an increased risk of death, with greater impairment increasing the risk, compared to older adults without hearing impairment, according to a study published online by JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.
Hearing impairment (HI) is common in older adults; its prevalence doubles with every decade of life, affecting two-thirds of adults older than 70 years, and has been shown to be associated with various negative health outcomes. Using combined data from the January 2005 to December 2006 and January 2009 to December 2010 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), Kevin J. Contrera, M.P.H., of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and colleagues studied 1,666 adults 70 years or older who had undergone audiometric testing. Severity of HI was defined per World Health Organization criteria.
Compared with individuals without HI (n = 527), individuals with HI (n = 1,139) were more likely to be older, male, white, former smokers, less educated, and have a history of cardiovascular disease and stroke. In an age-adjusted model, moderate or more severe HI was associated with a 54 percent increased risk of death, and mild HI with a 27 percent increased risk of death, compared with individuals without HI. After further adjustment for demographic characteristics and cardiovascular risk factors, the results suggested that HI may be associated with a 39 percent and 21 percent increased risk of death in individuals with moderate or more severe HI and mild HI, respectively, compared with individuals without HI.
Analysis restricted to individuals 80 years or younger yielded results also suggestive of a positive association between HI and mortality.
The authors write that potential mechanisms for these findings include causal connections of HI with cognitive, mental, and physical function.
“Future studies are required to explore the basis of the association of HI with mortality and to determine whether therapies to rehabilitate hearing can reduce mortality.”
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Published online September 24, 2015. doi:10.1001/.jamaoto.2015.1762.