Study Suggests Hearing Loss Associated With Impaired Physical Function

F.J. Thomas

Sarasota, FL ( – Workers over the age of 55 make up approximately 19 percent of the nation’s workforce and 17 percent of injuries on the job, with most injuries involving the knee, lumbar, and shoulder rotator cuff from falls.

One in three older Americans have some level of hearing loss, and 91 percent of adults with hearing loss are aged 50 and over. According to one 2018 study, those adults with hearing difficulties were 60 to 90 percent more likely to become injured than those without hearing issues.

While hearing loss may up the odds for accidents on the job, a new cross-sectional study published this week in JAMA suggests that hearing loss may also be associated with impaired physical function, frailty, and disability in older adults.

The researchers reviewed the records from the Seniors-ENRICA-2 study, which is a cohort study of 3,273 adults over the age of 65 in Madrid, Spain. Hearing assessments were performed on a total of 1644 participants at frequencies between 0.5 and 8 kHz in both ears.

Physical function was measured by gait speed, difficulty rising from a chair, and a balance assessment. Gait speed was assessed by the time required to walk a distance of 2.44 m twice. Participants were asked to rise from a chair 5 times without the use of their hands. To assess balance, participants were asked to perform 3 progressively challenging positions. Frailty was assessed using the Fried Fraility Criteria, which reviews exhaustion, low physical activity, slowness and weakness, and weight loss. Disability was assessed using the Lawton and Brody scale, which evaluates competencies and abilities for everyday tasks such as doing laundry, buying groceries, taking medications. The researchers also collected other variables, including diet, sleep, BMI, and general health conditions.

Between 79.6 to 91.1 percent of the participants had slight and mild hearing loss in 3 types of frequencies. For moderate hearing loss, the pure-tone average was 9.2 percent. For speech frequency, the percentage was 13.2, and for high frequency, the percentage was 45.1.

When cross-referenced with physical and cognitive assessments, the researchers found a direct association of hearing loss at speech frequency pure-tone average with not only physical function, frailty, and disability but also with comorbities, social isolation, and cognitive status. The researchers found similar results for standard frequency pure-tone average hearing loss.

The odds for hearing loss for standard frequency associated with impaired lower extremity function was 2.20. The odds for frailty syndrome was 1.85, and disability was 2.25. For speech frequency pure-tone average, the associated odds were 2.59 for impaired function, 1.85 for frailty, and 2.18 for disability.

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