Accumulating evidence points to a relationship between hearing function and cognitive ability in later life. However, the exact mechanisms of this relationship are still unclear. This study aimed to characterise latent cognitive trajectories in recall memory and identify their association with subsequent risk of hearing impairment.
We analysed data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing Wave 1 (2002/03) until Wave 7 (2014/15). The study population consisted of 3,615 adults aged 50+ who participated in the first wave of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, who had no self-reported hearing impairment in Wave 1, and who underwent a hearing test in Wave 7. Respondents were classified as having hearing impairment if they failed to hear tones quieter than 35 dB HL in the better ear.
The trajectories of recall memory scores were grouped using latent class growth mixture modelling and were related to the presence of hearing impairment in Wave 7. Models estimating 1-class through 5-class recall memory trajectories were compared and the best-fitting models were 4-class trajectories. The different recall memory trajectories represent different starting points and mean of the memory scores. Compared to respondents with the highest recall memory trajectory, other trajectories were increasingly likely to develop later hearing impairment.
Long-term changes in cognitive ability predict hearing impairment. Further research is required to identify the mechanisms explaining the association between cognitive trajectories and hearing impairment, as well as to determine whether intervention for maintenance of cognitive function also give benefit on hearing function among older adults.