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A study at the University of Bradford found a link between cognitive-related issues and hearing difficulties in the elderly. Scientists have always agreed that ageing causes changes in hearing sensitivity and cognitive decline. However, this study is the first to link the two factors together.

A lead study author from the University of Bradford, Ronan McGarrigle, explains that speech evolves as people age. Moreover, for people to apply the skill efficiently, they need to filter irrelevant sounds like background conversations and noise from traffic. This process is simple for most people. However, experiencing hearing loss could make it more challenging.

How researchers conducted the study

For the study, the researchers gathered 281 adults between 18 and 85. They exposed them to a task that assessed how efficiently they could listen to one person while ignoring another. The team also subjectively analysed their sensory-processing sensitivity, hearing impairment, memory ability,  mood states and listening-related fatigue.

The older participants reported higher rates of hearing impairment and more listening fatigue. However, after the researchers accounted for factors like auditory attention ability, perceived hearing impairments and memory ability, they realised that the older adults had less listening fatigue.

Ageing is typically linked to decreased hearing sensitivity, cognitive decline, reduced inhibition, and reduced memory capacity. These changes can make listening difficult as people require intact attention control and sensory processing for the task.

When older adults start to experience hearing problems, it affects how they communicate in their environments. As a result, they develop an increased sense of listening-related fatigue. However, this fatigue could also be linked to their awareness of the challenges they face in communicating. Their self-perception may also affect their listening skills.

Why the study was important 

The study is essential as it investigates how the elderly communicate. Many older adults who report experiencing more listening-related fatigue could develop poor listening skills. This change comes from a reduced motivation to common, which might affect their social lives.

McGarrigle adds that they still know little about listening fatigue in groups with language deficits, cognitive deficits, and those who frequently use their non-native language. Furthermore, the study has several limitations. For instance, the team had to rely on self-reported data, which can’t always be objective.