Many studies over the years by Johns Hopkins and others have confirmed that untreated hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of dementia. Other studies have found the same for vision impairment. However, new research by the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington has uncovered that people with both hearing and vision loss – also called dual sensory impairment (DSI) – are at even higher risk.
About the Study
The study is titled “Dual Sensory Impairment in Older Adults and Risk of Dementia from the GEM Study” and was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring last month. The purpose of the study was to better understand the impact of DSI on dementia risk.
Researchers examined self-reports of 2,051 participants from the Gingko Evaluation of Memory Study. Dementia status was established using standardized criteria and risk factors were measured by number of sensory impairments.
This study is the first of its kind to examine the combined effects of hearing loss and vision loss on cognition among older adults.
What the Data Shows
It is estimated that 33 percent of individuals over age 70 experience hearing loss and 18 percent experience vision impairment. These conditions worsen with age, which is why experts believe a correlation exists between their advancement and loss of a person’s functionality and mortality.
There are two leading theories about the correlation of DSI and dementia:
- The first theory is that vision and hearing loss result from similar physical processes that cause dementia.
- The second theory is that these conditions cause social isolation, depression and physical inactivity, each of which is a risk factor for dementia.
Of the 2,051 participants, 14.9 percent had a visual impairment, 7.8 percent had hearing loss and 5.1 percent had DSI. In seeking a connection between these conditions and dementia, researchers found that:
- 3 percent of participants without any reported hearing or vision loss developed dementia.
- 9 percent of participants with a single impairment developed dementia.
- 8 percent of participants with DSI developed dementia.
This data shows that people with dual sensory impairment are almost twice as likely to develop dementia as those with normal hearing and vision.
What this Means for Hearing and Vision Loss Patients
More research is needed to uncover whether these outcomes change for people who seek treatment for their DSI, but researchers are hopeful.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with an audiologist, call the Hearing & Balance Center at Charleston ENT.