BALTIMORE — Hearing loss in old age speeds up physical decline and reduces mobility, a new study reveals. With hearing impairment impacting two-thirds of adults over 70, a new study suggests that people who protect their hearing are more likely to be stronger and healthy as they enter retirement age.
The study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that those with a hearing impairment have poorer balance, worse walking endurance, and faster declines in physical function over time compared to those with normal hearing. In fact, the worse the person’s hearing, the worse the physical function, the study of nearly 3,000 adults concludes.
Among the participants, a third had normal hearing, 40 percent had mild hearing impairment, less than a quarter had a moderate hearing impairment and four percent were virtually deaf. Participants were asked to complete a series of tests such as walking over two minutes, balancing, and were also tested for other forms of physical function.
“Hearing impairment was associated with poorer physical function and walking endurance in cross-sectional analysis and faster declines in physical function in longitudinal analysis,” the authors write. “These associations were graded in general, with stronger associations among individuals with worse hearing.
“The differences in gait speed and walking endurance between participants with severe hearing impairment versus those with normal hearing were clinically meaningful according to previous literature,” the study continues. “Collectively, these findings suggest that individuals with hearing impairment may be at greater risk for physical function limitations.”
Walking speed may seem trivial, but previous studies have linked gait to serious conditions including dementia, heart disease, and even an increased risk of death from COVID-19. Researchers say improving your ability to hear will ultimately improve your overall health as you age.
“Because hearing impairment is amenable to prevention and management, it potentially serves as a target for interventions to slow physical decline with aging,” they write.
The study is published in the journal Geriatrics.
SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.