Dual sensory impairment linked to a higher risk of death

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Millions of people around the world experience some degree of both vision loss and hearing loss. The effects on their health and wellbeing have implications for the healthcare and aged care systems.


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People with both vision and hearing impairment – known as dual sensory impairment (DSI) – have a 44 per cent higher risk of death than people with neither sensory impairment.

This link between DSI and mortality was found by an international research team led by Professor Ming He and Dr Zhuoting (Lisa) Zhu from the University of Melbourne.

More than 10 per cent of people aged 80 and older are estimated to have DSI. As the world’s population ages, the number of people with DSI is expected to increase. DSI has been linked to an higher risk of dementia, depression, social deprivation, accidental injuries and falls. But whether DSI is also linked to an increased risk of death was not clear.

The researchers used data from the UK Biobank, a long-term study that is tracking the health and wellbeing of over half a million participants in the UK. The results of standard tests of visual acuity and hearing were available for 113,563 participants. Of these, 733 participants had DSI, 2973 participants had vision impairment, and 13,560 participants had hearing impairment. Since their recruitment to the UK Biobank study, 5992 of the participants had died.

The researchers analysed the data using statistical tests. After adjusting for confounding factors – such as age, gender, ethnicity, education, health status and lifestyle factors – they discovered the links between sensory impairment and the risk of death.

Compared with no sensory impairment, DSI was associated with a 44 per cent higher risk of death. Vision impairment alone was linked with a 26 per cent higher risk, and hearing impairment alone was linked with a 23 per cent higher risk.

Next steps

The researchers plan to explore the biological mechanisms underlying the link between sensory impairment and death. They hypothesise that the link could be explained both by functional declines related to sensory impairment (such as vision loss or hearing loss) and by pathogenesis (such as oxidative stress).

Funding

University of Melbourne Asia Pacific Research Accelerator (APRA) Program

CERA Foundation

NHMRC Investigator Grant

Publication

Zhang X et al. (2022) Association between dual sensory impairment and risk of mortality: a cohort study from the UK Biobank. BMC Geriatrics 22: 631. doi: 10.1186/s12877-022-03322-x

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