Seniors with reduced hearing are more likely to have poorer physical functioning, according to a new study. Treating hearing loss may help slow this decline, investigators say.

Among nearly 3,000 participants, those with hearing impairment had significantly worse physical function, particularly in balance, than their peers with normal hearing. They had worse walking endurance in a more than 2-minute walk, and their physical function also declined more quickly over time, reported Jennifer A. Deal, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues.

Poor hearing has been associated with physical, mental and social ailments in older adults, including dementia. But hearing impairment is a prevalent but treatable condition, and the study results suggest that it may be a target for interventions that may help slow physical function loss associated with aging, Deal and colleagues wrote.

The widespread problem of hearing loss among American adults is well-documented. President Biden last week issued an executive order directing the Department of Health and Human Services to consider issuing proposed rules that would allow over-the-counter sales of hearing aids.

The order targets business practices that require people with hearing loss to visit a doctor or specialist for hearing aid access, “even though experts agree that medical evaluation is not necessary,” according to the White House.

These practices serve “only as red tape and a barrier to more companies selling hearing aids,” it stated.

In the current study, investigators used data from the 2011 to 2019 period of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, a population-based study of community-dwelling adults at 4 sites in the United States. 

Full findings were published in JAMA Network Open.