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Hearing Loss Increases Fatigue in People Ages 40 and Older, Study Shows

A new study in JAMA suggests people with hearing loss are nearly twice as likely to experience daily fatigue compared to those with normal hearing.
Hearing Loss And Fatigue Tiredness

The new research is thought to be the first national study to establish a connection between the effort expended by individuals with hearing loss to process sounds and its long-term impact on their overall health.

A new study published as a research letter in the July 6 online edition of JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery suggests that individuals with hearing loss are nearly twice as likely to experience daily fatigue compared to those with normal hearing, even after adjustments for demographics, lifestyle factors, and comorbidities.

Conducted by a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, the study looked at data from the 2015-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that included 3,031 nationally representative participants aged 40 and above. Among the respondents, 2,318 (76%) had normal hearing, while 713 (24%) had hearing loss.

A total of 12.7% of respondents with hearing loss reported feeling fatigued nearly every day over 2 weeks, whereas only 7% of adults with normal hearing reported the same level of fatigue. The data was adjusted for factors including age, sex, race and ethnicity, education, smoking, drinking, occupational and off-work noise exposure, and body mass index in one model, and comorbidities and depressive symptoms in a second model.

The new research is thought to be the first national study to establish a connection between the effort expended by individuals with hearing loss to process sounds and its long-term impact on their overall health. Audiologist and study co-author Nicholas S. Reed, AuD, PhD, who has published important research on several hearing-related topics, told HearingTracker that the findings provide insights into the adverse health effects experienced by those with hearing loss. These effects may even extend beyond fatigue and encompass decreased physical activity, poorer mental health, and cognitive function.

“While this is not conclusive evidence, fatigue caused by hearing loss could help explain other findings such as the association between hearing loss and decreased physical activity,” says lead-author Kening Jiang, MHS.

Kening Jiang And Nicholas Reed

Kening Jiang, MHS, and Nicholas Reed, AuD, PhD.

The research highlights the importance of addressing hearing loss as an integral part of overall health management. Unfortunately, the sample had too few people who use hearing aids, thus limiting conclusions about how amplification might reduce fatigue. However, by recognizing and treating hearing loss, healthcare professionals can help alleviate the burden of chronic fatigue and improve the overall well-being of individuals with hearing impairment. As fatigue impacts people on a daily basis, the researchers hope to hone in on mediating factors between it and other physiological ramifications, potentially including cognitive decline or dementia.

“This work adds more evidence that age-related hearing loss can impact our health in many ways,” says Reed. “It’s important for audiologists to continue to use this evidence to push for policy changes to ensure accessible and affordable hearing care and appropriate accommodations across public and work settings.”

The study authors, which also included Adam Spira, PhD, Frank Lin, MD, PhD, and Jennifer Deal, PhD, say more research is warranted to explore fatigue's multidimensional aspects and how hearing loss may contribute to different types of physical and mental fatigue. Additionally, they say understanding how hearing loss impacts other health outcomes is crucial for comprehensive care and intervention strategies, particularly for future policy decision-making including Medicare coverage.

Original paper citation: Jiang K, Spira AP, Lin FR, Deal JA, Reed NS. Hearing Loss and Fatigue in Middle-Aged and Older Adults. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Published online July 06, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2023.1328

Karl

Editor in Chief

Karl Strom is the editor-in-chief of HearingTracker. He was a founding editor of The Hearing Review and has covered the hearing aid industry for over 30 years.