Hearing loss is linked to multiple health problems

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Most of us will lose some of our ability to hear as we age. But hearing loss may be a risk that was previously overlooked, according to recently published research.

Three separate studies found that people with low hearing may be “more lethargic and more likely to have worsened physical function than those without hearing loss,” according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which supported the studies.

In one study, researchers looked at adults between the ages of 60 and 69 and found that on average people with a hearing loss were sedentary for an additional 34 minutes each day than those without a hearing loss. The more severe the hearing loss, the greater the inactivity.

A second study found that people with low hearing were more likely to score worse in terms of physical function, balance, and walking speed. These researchers also found that over eight years, people with low hearing had a faster rate of physical deterioration than those with normal hearing.

A third study found that people with moderate or greater hearing loss declined faster in terms of physical function over six years than those with normal hearing. These researchers also found that people in their study who wore hearing aids had better walking tolerance than those with untreated hearing loss.

All three studies were led by researchers at the NIA and Johns Hopkins University and have been published in JAMA Network Open, or Journal of Gerontology.

The researchers caution that although there is an association between hearing loss and physical activity, it is still not known whether hearing loss actually leads to a decrease in physical activity or function.

The relationship between hearing impairment and sedentary behavior underscores the importance of treating the condition. About two-thirds of adults age 70 or older have trouble hearing, according to the NIA.

The NIA notes that regular physical activity is vital to healthy aging. Living a more sedentary life can increase your risk of health problems later in life.

The NIA notes that hearing loss can be successfully treated with:

  • wear hearing aids
  • Use of assistive listening devices
  • Undergoing surgery to implant a small electronic device near the ear

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