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Informant-based hearing difficulty signifies elevated MCI, dementia risks

19 Sep 2019

Individuals with hearing difficulties that interfere with daily activities, as reported by their partners or children, appear to have an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia, according to a recent study.

Researchers examined 4,812 dementia-free older adults (mean age, 73.7 years; 48.5 percent female) enrolled in the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. All participants underwent cognitive evaluation and had informant-based report on hearing difficulties at baseline and every 15 months.

Most of the informants (64.1 percent) were spouses, followed by children (20.4 percent), friend/companion (9.0 percent), other relatives (4.5 percent), son- or daughter-in-law (0.9 percent), and paid caregiver (0.2 percent). Sixty-eight percent of the informants reported living with the participant (n=3,273), while 73 percent reported seeing the participant daily (n=3,511).

In the cohort, 981 participants had hearing difficulties (20.4 percent), 1,240 (27.2 percent) were APOE ε4-positive and 612 (12.7 percent) had MCI. Among participants who were free of cognitive disorders at baseline, 273 (6.8 percent) developed dementia and 759 developed MCI over a mean follow-up of 5.4 years.

Multivariable Cox proportional hazards models revealed hearing difficulties to be associated with higher risks of MCI (hazard ratio [HR], 1.29, 95 percent CI, 1.10–1.51; p=0.002) and dementia (HR, 1.39, 1.08–1.79; p=0.011). Among participants with MCI, hearing difficulty was linked to modestly greater cognitive decline.

Based on the findings, the researchers pointed out that informant-based hearing difficulty may have important clinical implications. As a marker, it is easily obtained and could contribute to the early detection of hearing impairment. It could also aid in the selection of individuals for further evaluation for progression to MCI or dementia and lead to early treatment while individuals are still unimpaired cognitively or only mildly impaired.

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