To examine the association between hearing impairment and incident frailty in older adults.
Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses with 4-year follow-up using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.
Community-dwelling individuals aged 60 and older with data on hearing and frailty status (N = 2,836).
Hearing impairment was defined as poor self-reported hearing. Having none of the five Fried frailty phenotype components (slow walking, weak grip, self-reported exhaustion, weight loss and low physical activity) was defined as not frail, having one or two as prefrail, and having three or more as frail. Participants who were not frail at baseline were followed for incident prefrailty and frailty. Participants who were prefrail at baseline were followed for incident frailty.
One thousand three hundred ninety six (49%) participants were not frail, 1,178 (42%) were prefrail, and 262 (9%) were frail according to the Fried phenotype. At follow-up, there were 367 new cases of prefrailty and frailty among those who were not frail at baseline (n = 1,396) and 133 new cases of frailty among those who were prefrail at baseline (n = 1,178). Cross-sectional analysis showed an association between hearing impairment and frailty (age- and sex-adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 1.66, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.37-2.01), which remained after further adjustments for wealth, education, cardiovascular disease, cognition, and depression. In longitudinal analyses, nonfrail participants with hearing impairment were at greater risk of becoming prefrail and frail at follow-up (OR = 1.43, 95% CI = 1.05-1.95), but the association was attenuated after further adjustment. Prefrail participants with hearing impairment had a greater risk of becoming frail at follow-up (OR = 1.64, 95% CI = 1.07-2.51) even after further adjustment.
Hearing impairment in prefrail older adults was associated with greater risk of becoming frail, independent of covariates, suggesting that hearing impairment may hasten the progression of frailty.