Does social isolation mediate the association between hearing loss and cognition in adults? A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies

Nisha Dhanda*, Amanda Hall, James Martin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: There has been extensive research on the relationship between hearing and cognitive impairment in older adults but little examination of the role of mediating factors. Social isolation is a potential mediator, occurring because of hearing loss, and contributing to accelerated cognitive decline. Previous systematic reviews on this topic area have not considered the temporal nature of hearing loss and cognitive impairment exclusively or examined potential mediators within a longitudinal study design.

Methods: A systematic review was conducted. Electronic searches were performed in Web of Science, PubMed (Medline), Scopus, EMBASE, PsychInfo, and ProQuest (PsychArticles and ProQuest Dissertation and Theses) based on a search string of keywords relating to hearing loss, social isolation, and cognitive impairment/dementia in June 2023. Papers were critically appraised using the CASP checklists for cohort studies. Risk of bias in the selected studies was assessed using the Item Bank for Assessment of Risk of Bias and Precision for Observational Studies of Interventions or Exposures.

Results: Eleven of the 15 included studies provide evidence of a dose-dependent association between hearing threshold (40 dB HL or greater) and later cognitive impairment or incident dementia. Only one study included social isolation as a mediator, which was found to not be a significant contributing factor. The meta-analysis of 5 studies pooled hazard ratio for cognitive impairment due to hearing loss is 1.11 (95% CI: 1.06 to 1.15, p < 0.001). The pooled hazard ratio for incident dementia due to hearing loss was HR 1.21 (95% CI: 1.11 to 1.31, p = 0.002).

Conclusion: The analysis of included studies indicate that hearing threshold level affects later cognitive status or dementia diagnosis. There is not enough evidence to determine the role of social isolation as a mediator. Future epidemiology studies need to measure different elements of social isolation and ensure that hearing and cognition are measured at multiple time points.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1347794
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

© 2024 Dhanda, Hall and Martin. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • cognition
  • hearing loss
  • mediation
  • meta-analysis
  • social isolation


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