You may be aware that untreated hearing loss has been linked through multiple studies to an increased risk of cognitive decline. But new research out of the University of Washington determined that when combined with visual impairment, the risk of developing dementia increases by 86 percent for those with hearing loss.

What Is Dual Sensory Impairment?

cropped view of senior man playing with puzzles

About 33 percent of people over the age of 70 experience hearing loss; about 18 percent of those in this age category also experience vision loss. When experienced together, this combination is known as dual sensory impairment.

There are two theories of why hearing and vision loss have been linked to an increased risk of dementia. These specific deficiencies either result from the same physical process that causes dementia or increase depression, social isolation and inactivity, which can lead to the development of dementia.

According to Phillip H. Hwang, the lead study author, “Although most prior studies have focused on impairments in hearing and vision individually, the impact of having combined hearing and visual impairment, or dual sensory impairment (DSI), on dementia risk is unclear.”

New Research from Old Data

Hwang and his partners utilized data previously collected for a double‐blind randomized‐controlled trial looking at how well Ginkgo biloba prevented dementia in older populations. This study looked at adults 75 and older with normal cognitive function. Over eight years, the researchers collected self-reported data involving participants’ hearing and vision as well as follow-up exams to assess the development of dementia.

Dual sensory impairment in older adults and risk of dementia from the GEM Study,” published in the most recent issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring analyzed data from 2,051 individuals.

  • 1,480 had no vision or hearing loss
  • 306 has a visual impairment
  • 160 had a hearing impairment
  • 105 has both (dual sensory impairment)

The researchers found that those with dual sensory impairment were twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those without an impairment.

Types of Dementia

There are three types of dementia: all-call, Alzheimer’s-related and vascular. Hwang found that those with dual sensory impairment were 112 percent more likely than those without an impairment to develop Alzheimer’s-related dementia.

There was no link between dual sensory impairment and vascular dementia.

Implications from the Study

According to Hwang “Further research is needed to characterize the exact role of sensory impairments and whether treatments that improve sensory function, such as surgery or sensory aids, devices, and prostheses, can modify this risk.”

The research illustrates the importance of doing what you can to prevent the onset of vision or hearing loss and seeking treatment quickly if you do develop an impairment, especially for older people.

To learn more about the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline or to schedule an appointment for a hearing test, contact the experts at Bountiful Hearing Center today.

Learn More About Hearing Loss