Some decreased hearing ability seems inevitable with age - a new study found that the prevalence of partial hearing loss is about 21 percent in adults aged 48 to 59 years, but rises to 90 percent in those over 80. The investigators, from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, analyzed data on nearly 3,300 men and women ranging in age from 21 to 84. The research team also evaluated hearing impairment and measured word recognition at different sound levels (using both male and female voices) in the study participants. Their analysis showed that hearing impairment was more likely in men, in those who had lower education levels, worked in noisy occupations or had a history of ear surgery. But they also found that there may be a cardiovascular link to hearing impairment, as hearing loss was also correlated with the use of statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs), a higher hematocrit (a marker of blood viscosity) and the thickness of artery walls. The report was published online on Feb. 21 by the Archives of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery and will appear in the journal's May print issue.
My take? The link between hearing impairment and cardiovascular disease is interesting. We also know that heart attack risk is higher among people exposed to chronic noise, and a study published in 2005 showed that partial hearing loss is 54 percent more prevalent among those who have a history of heart disease than it is in the general population. Encouragingly, the same study showed that individuals who exercised at least once a week reduced their risk of hearing loss by 32 percent compared to sedentary people.