A study of older Australians has revealed a strong link between self-reported hearing loss and cognition, along with increased risk for mild cognitive impairment or dementia.

Investigators examined data from 1,037 men and women aged 70 to 90 years from the Sydney Memory & Aging Study. Poor cognitive performance was found in participants who reported moderate to severe hearing difficulties, particularly in attention and/or processing speed and in visuospatial ability. Those adults also were 1.5 times more likely to develop MCI or dementia at a six-year follow up, according to lead author Paul Strutt, Ph.D., of Macquarie University in Australia.

Hearing loss was independently tied to a higher rate of MCI, but not with dementia. This likely was due to the small number of people with dementia at the six-year follow-up, the authors noted.

Hearing loss may increase the amount of working memory resources the brain must use, Strutt theorized. This, in turn, may result in “observable cognitive impairment on neuropsychological testing,” he said.

People with severe hearing loss are five times more likely to develop dementia, according to previous research. Addressing hearing loss in midlife, such as with hearing aids, may reduce this risk, the researchers concluded.

The study was published in the journal Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition.