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J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017 Aug 1;72(8):1087-1090. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glx067.

Sensory Impairments and Cognitive Function in Middle-Aged Adults.

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Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.
Department of Population Health Sciences, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison.



Hearing, visual, and olfactory impairments have been associated with cognitive impairment in older adults but less is known about associations with cognitive function in middle-aged adults.


Sensory and cognitive functions were measured on participants in the baseline examination (2005-2008) of the Beaver Dam Offspring Study. Cognitive function was measured with the Trail Making tests A (TMTA) and B (TMTB) and the Grooved Peg Board test. Pure-tone audiometry, Pelli-Robson letter charts, and the San Diego Odor Identification test were used to measure hearing, contrast sensitivity, and olfaction, respectively.


There were 2,836 participants aged 21-84 years with measures of hearing, visual, olfactory, and cognitive function at the baseline examination. Nineteen percent of the cohort had one sensory impairment and 3% had multiple sensory impairments. In multivariable adjusted linear regression models that included all three sensory impairments, hearing impairment, visual impairment, and olfactory impairment were each independently associated with poorer performance on the TMTA, TMTB, and Grooved Peg Board (p < .05 for all sensory impairments in all models). Participants with a sensory impairment took on average from 2 to 10 seconds longer than participants without the corresponding sensory impairment to complete these tests. Results were similar in models that included adjustment for hearing aid use.


Hearing, visual and olfactory impairment were associated with poorer performance on cognitive function tests independent of the other sensory impairments and factors associated with cognition. Sensory impairments in midlife are associated with subtle deficits in cognitive function which may be indicative of early brain aging.


Aging; Contrast Sensitivity; Epidemiology; Hearing; Olfaction

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