Niroshica Mohanathas is a graduate student in Psychology at the University of Toronto and is affiliated with KITE- University Health Network, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. Primarily, her research explores how sensory and cognitive impairments, in healthy older adults and older adults with age-related hearing loss, can increase the risk of falls using behavioural assessments, self-report questionnaires and virtual reality simulators. The purpose of these projects is to implement training interventions to prevent injuries, restore function and increase social participation for older adults.
The associations between hearing, cognition and mobility among healthy older adults
Niroshica Mohanathas, University of Toronto, Canada
Jennifer Campos, University of Toronto, Canada
Rachel Downey and Karen Li, Concordia University, Canada
Aging is often associated with declines in sensory (e.g., hearing), cognitive, and motor functioning. These functions jointly influence one’s ability to engage successfully in everyday activities (i.e., communication and mobility) and avoid injury (i.e., falls-related injuries). Despite this, in research and in clinical practice, we typically assess abilities in hearing, cognition and mobility independently of each other.
However, age-related changes in each function are often interrelated and interact while performing daily tasks. While previous literature has begun to consider the associations among clinically significant hearing loss, cognitive declines, and mobility problems, they have mainly focused on impairments, while less is known about whether the associations among these functions are observed in older adult populations who are experiencing typical non-clinical age-related declines and who are still within age-normative ranges. By examining these changes together, we may be able to better predict whether declines in one ability (i.e., hearing) are associated with declines in another ability (i.e., cognition or mobility).
When examining the hearing-cognition-mobility-link, previous research has used gold standard objective tests such as audiometry, cognitive test batteries, or clinical tests of balance. However, objective assessments may not be sensitive to the subtle sensory, cognitive and/or mobility declines in higher functioning older adults that the individual themselves might be subjectively aware of and may be better captured using self-report measures.
Therefore, this study aimed to fill these gaps by examining the hearing-cognition-mobility link within the same healthy older adult participants using both objective and subjective assessments. The current study included two sessions of testing, an in-person objective-measures session (n= 114) and an online subjective-measures session (n= 41), where both sessions measured the same categories of function (hearing, mobility, cognition). We conducted correlations and found that (1) better objective hearing is associated with better objective cognition, (2) better subjective hearing is associated with better subjective cognition and better subjective mobility, and (3) poorer subjective cognition was associated with better objective mobility. Therefore, these findings suggest that aging is associated with declines in hearing, cognition and mobility and declines in one ability may be predictive of declines in another ability. Taken together, there is a need for more studies to consider hearing, cognition and mobility together in healthy older adults using objective and subjective assessments.
Ultimately, understanding age-related changes using a holistic lens may provide novel recommendations to inform primary health care and age-friendly environmental and technology-based design compared to addressing these changes independently.