Hearing loss impacts physical fitness and sufferers are more likely to walk slower and have poor balance, study finds
- Scientists performed tests on US adults with range of different hearing abilities
- They found those with severe hearing impairment had poorer physical function
- Hearing loss can affect physical functioning through ‘reduced perception of auditory input that contributes to walking and balance’, they claim
Hearing impairment may contribute to poorer physical function with ageing, a new study has revealed.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore assessed if hearing impairment was linked with poorer physical ability.
They recruited 2,956 US adults with an average age of 79 years, all with different levels of hearing ability ranging from normal to severe hearing loss.
Participants with hearing impairment had significantly poorer physical function – especially balance – than those with normal hearing.
They also had worse walking endurance, as shown over a two-minute walk, and faster declines in physical function over time.
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Hearing impairment was associated with poorer performance, faster decline in physical function, and reduced walking endurance
The study was led by Pablo Martinez Amezcua, an epidemiologist and ageing researcher.
But its findings are generally positive, because hearing impairment is responsive to prevention and management, the experts suggest.
‘This study’s findings suggest that because hearing impairment is a prevalent but treatable condition, it may be a target for interventions to slow the decline of physical function associated with ageing,’ the authors say.
‘Whether management of hearing impairment could delay decline in physical function requires further investigation.’
Physical functioning is hugely important for independent living – but it tends to decline with age (stock image)
Of the volunteers, 973 (33 per cent) had normal hearing, 1,170 (40 per cent) had mild hearing impairment, 692 (23 per cent) had moderate hearing impairment and 121 (4 per cent) had severe hearing impairment.
The researchers said they found stronger evidence of reduced physicality among individuals with the worse hearing, based on a variety of tests.
Physical function, for example, was assessed using the short physical performance battery (SPPB), which ranks mobility from 0 to 12.
Hearing impairment – which affects about two-thirds of adults older than 70 years – can impact affect physical functioning through ‘reduced perception of auditory input that contributes to walking and balance’, they add.
Therefore, the link between the two factors is less random than one might initially think.
But the link between hearing and physical function may also be controlled by reduced cognitive resources, depression, social isolation and ‘reduced life space, resulting in less physical activity’.
The link between hearing impairment and physical function has been studied previously – in 2016, researchers found a link between hearing impairment and poorer physical function.
However, this study used a small sample size and found no links between hearing impairment with poorer balance and slower gait speed.
‘Studies of the association between hearing impairment and walking endurance – the ability to walk longer distances, an early factor associated with disability – are scarce and have inconsistent findings,’ the team say.
‘In this cohort study, hearing impairment was associated with poorer performance, faster decline in physical function and reduced walking endurance.’
Researchers admitted that their study sample was made up predominantly of white people, and that the lack of other racial and ethnic groups limits the extent to which they can be generalised to other people.
Also, only 121 participants had severe hearing impairment, which could have reduced the research’s ‘statistical power’ to detect physical differences between those with normal hearing and severe hearing impairment.
The research has been published today in JAMA Network Open.