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Longitudinal associations between hearing loss and general cognitive ability: the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936

Okely, Judith A.; Akeroyd, Michael A.; Allerhand, Michael; Starr, John M.; Deary, Ian J.


Judith A. Okely

Michael Allerhand

John M. Starr

Ian J. Deary


Hearing impairment is associated with poorer cognitive function in later life. We tested for the potential contribution of childhood cognitive ability to this relationship. Childhood cognitive ability is strongly related to cognitive function in older age, and may be related to auditory function through its association with hearing impairment risk factors. Using data from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, we tested whether childhood cognitive ability predicted later-life hearing ability then whether this association was mediated by demographic or health differences. We found that childhood cognitive ability was negatively associated with hearing impairment risk at age 76 (odds ratio = .834, p = .042). However, this association was non-significant following subsequent adjustment for potentially mediating demographic and health factors. Next, we tested whether associations observed in older age between hearing impairment and general cognitive ability level or change were accounted for by childhood cognitive ability. At age 76, in the minimally adjusted model, hearing impairment was associated with poorer general cognitive ability level (β = -.119, p = .030) but was not related to decline in general cognitive ability. The former association became non-significant following additional adjustment for childhood cognitive ability (β = -.068; p = .426) suggesting that childhood cognitive ability contributes (potentially via demographic and health differences) to the association between levels of hearing and cognitive function in older age. Further work is needed to test whether early-life cognitive ability also contributes to the association (documented in previous studies) between older-age hearing impairment and cognitive decline.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Sep 30, 2019
Journal Psychology and Aging
Print ISSN 0882-7974
Electronic ISSN 1939-1498
Publisher American Psychological Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 34
Issue 6
Pages 766-779
APA6 Citation Okely, J. A., Akeroyd, M. A., Allerhand, M., Starr, J. M., & Deary, I. J. (2019). Longitudinal associations between hearing loss and general cognitive ability: the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936. Psychology and Aging, 34(6), 766-779.
Keywords Cognitive ageing, Hearing loss, Childhood cognitive ability, Longitudinal study
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