Research documenting the connection between hearing loss and dementia is becoming more prevalent. But the bigger question is do people who wear hearing aids have a reduced risk of developing dementia? Now, thanks to a newly released study published in the medical journal The Lancet, we’re beginning to see proof that for people with hearing loss, wearing hearing aids may reduce this risk.
This latest study was conducted by an international team of researchers and shows that people experiencing hearing loss who are not using hearing aids may have a higher risk of dementia than people without hearing loss; however, using a hearing aid may reduce this risk to the same level as people without hearing loss. The study analyzed 437,704 people in the UK Biobank ages 40-69 between 2006-2010. The average age of study participants at recruitment was 56 years old, and the average follow-up time was 12 years.
Around three-quarters of the participants had no hearing loss, and the remaining one-quarter had some hearing loss. Among those with hearing loss, 11.7% used hearing aids, say the researchers. After controlling for other factors, the study suggests that, compared to participants with normal hearing, people with hearing loss not using hearing aids had a 42% higher risk of all-cause dementia, while no increased risk was found in people with hearing loss who used hearing aids.
The positive association of hearing aid use was observed in all-cause dementia and cause-specific dementia subtypes, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and non-Alzheimer’s disease non-vascular dementia.
How an Audiologist Can Help
If you aren’t sure if you have hearing loss, have your hearing evaluated by an audiologist, a doctoral-level hearing healthcare professional. If diagnosed with hearing loss, consider the possibility of wearing hearing aids, but keep in mind wearing hearing aids is thought to reduce the risk of dementia, but there is no cure for it.
In addition, there are other benefits to wearing hearing aids. They have been shown to improve overall quality of life, including providing improved communication, better relationships, lower rates of mental health issues, such as depression, and a better ability to be productive personally and professionally.
Though many people may think a close friend or family member would be helpful in diagnosing memory loss, they often are too close to the situation, or may be in denial and not recognize when someone is struggling.
Instead, your audiologist may be one of the first individuals to notice the signs and symptoms of memory loss and may be able to help identify dementia early on when treatment is likely to be more effective.
How is that possible? Audiologists typically care for older adults and see them on a regular basis. During their conversations with their patients, they may note a decline in cognitive ability, especially if the person has difficulty operating their hearing aids as well as they once did, or they have problems understanding basic instructions. An audiologist also may have a good understanding of the dementia process, and how such a diagnosis could impact an individual’s ability to continue functioning on a daily basis.
Associated Audiologists offers these tips to help individuals and families who may be dealing with someone who has been diagnosed with hearing and memory loss.
- Schedule appointments and check-ups at regular intervals and be sure your loved one keeps them.
- A trusted family member or friend should come to each appointment if possible so they can help keep track of details and instructions.
- The patient should add any individuals responsible for helping with their healthcare to their HIPAA privacy form. This form gives the audiologist, and other healthcare providers, permission to discuss any issues or concerns with the individuals listed.
- Be aware of loss/damage coverage on hearing aids. If memory declines, hearing aids are often one of the first items misplaced or lost.
- Help your loved one maintain good health habits and stick to routines. Doing so can help them better cope with any memory loss.
- Rely on the audiology team to help monitor hearing, and to point out any noticeable declines in memory or cognitive function to either the patient, or to other members of their healthcare team.
Remember, an audiologist can be a trusted ally for patients and their families, helping to spot unusual behavioral changes or more significant lapses in memory. Once aware of the issue, the patient or family members can discuss possible treatment options with a primary care provider or a specialist. Often, these conversations will trigger other concerns over issues such as the individual’s living environment, ability to function well independently, and if or when medications should be started.
Associated Audiologists is staffed by doctoral-level audiologists who are familiar with the latest research and technology related to hearing loss diagnosis and treatment. Our team offers a full range of hearing aids from entry-level devices to those with the latest features, such as directional microphones and Bluetooth connectivity. Our goal is to work closely with the patient and their family to determine the patient’s hearing loss, lifestyle, needs and budget, recommending devices appropriate for the individual’s circumstances.
Jiang F, Mishra SR, Shrestha N, et al. Association between hearing aid use and all-cause and cause-specific dementia: An analysis of the UK Biobank cohort. Lancet. 2023; published online April 13, 2023.