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Hearing loss linked to worse cognitive function in Hispanic/Latino American adults

Hearing loss is associated with worse scores on learning and memory tests, according to a recent study conducted in Hispanic/Latino Americans between the ages of 45 and 74. The study also detected a link between poor learning and memory performance and high levels of sugar in the blood, which is a sign of diabetes and a risk factor for heart disease. The findings were published recently in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.Older adult with hearing loss leaning in with his hand near his ear.

A research team at the NIA-supported Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of California, San Diego, led the study of more than 9,000 middle-aged and older adults. The research participants are part of the NIH-supported Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, the most comprehensive study of Hispanic/Latino health and disease in the United States.

For the current study, researchers relied on several tests to measure levels of cognitive function, blood sugar, and hearing loss. High blood sugar and diabetes are of particular concern because more than half of Hispanic/Latino adults are expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime. The researchers found that hearing loss was linked to worse cognitive function, results that mirror those of previous studies in other populations.

The team also found that high glucose levels were associated with worse cognitive function only among those with hearing loss. But, heart disease risk factors in general were associated with worse cognitive function among all study participants.

The results suggest that treating hearing loss, such as with hearing aids and other hearing assistive technology, may reduce the risk of worsening cognitive function. It is important to keep in mind, however, that population studies like this one can show an association but not causality. The authors encourage long-term studies with Hispanic/Latino Americans to enable a better understanding of the possible relationship between hearing loss, cognitive function, and heart disease.

This research was supported in part by NIA grants R01AG048642, RF1AG054548, RF1AG061022, P30AG062429, and P30AG059299.

Reference: Stickel, AM, et al. Hearing Sensitivity, Cardiovascular Risk, and Neurocognitive Function: The Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL). JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. 2020. e204835. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2020.4835.