In promising new research from the University of Melbourne, Australia, scientists tested the use of hearing aids in almost 100 adults aged 62-82 years with hearing loss to see if wearing hearing aids may delay cognitive decline in older adults and improve brain function.
Cognitive decline is associated with hearing loss, which affects about 32 per cent of people aged 55 years, and more than 70 per cent of people over age 70. Hearing loss has been identified as a modifiable risk factor for dementia.
Participants were assessed before and 18 months after having hearing aids fitted. They were checked for their hearing, cognitive function, speech perception, quality of life, physical activity, loneliness, mood and medical health.
After 18 months of hearing aid use, researchers found speech perception, self-reported listening disability and quality of life had significantly improved for participants.
Most notably, 97.3 per cent of participants in this study showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function, their mental ability to plan, organize information and initiate tasks.
Women, in particular, showed significant improvements in working memory, which is used for reasoning and decision-making, as well as most other cognitive functions assessed.
The study also found more frequent use of hearing aids was associated with greater improvements in cognitive function, and women were much more diligent about wearing their hearing aids than men.
The researchers characterized this as a positive step in investigating the treatment of hearing aids to delay cognitive decline, and said more research is under way.
While we wait for those results, it’s important to address hearing loss. Here are some next steps you can take.
- Schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist for a comprehensive hearing evaluation. This is the best way to determine if you have a hearing loss. If you do, the test results will provide the audiologist and you with the information needed to determine the type of hearing loss you have, and the best options for treatment.
- If you are prescribed hearing aids, be sure to wear them every day. That’s the only way they can help you hearing better, and possibly prevent cognitive decline. Allow yourself some time to get used to them, and pay attention to when they help the most.
- Make sure your hearing aids fit well. Whistling or feedback are often from a loose-fitting hearing aid. Earwax, or amplification settings. Try moving the hearing aid to get a better fit. Ask your loved ones for help if you cannot do it yourself. Contact your audiologist if you cannot get the feedback to stop.
- Follow up with your audiologist as recommended. Hearing aids are not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Each one is a tiny computer that requires professional expertise to adjust to your specific needs and individual hearing loss.
- Associated Audiologists uses real-ear measurement and speech mapping to be sure that each hearing aid we fit is performing as it should, and that you are hearing your best. This is considered a “best practice” in the field, but only 20 to 30 percent of all hearing aid dispensers perform this additional verification test.
- Schedule routine hearing checks in advance and keep your appointments. When you have your hearing checked on a regular basis, you’re more likely to catch a small problem before it becomes a big one. This is also an opportunity for you to tell the audiologist if you are having any issues with your hearing aids or health.