New studies show hearing aids improve cognitive performance in older adults

Studies have shown that older adults with untreated hearing loss have a higher incidence of fall- and accident-related death, social isolation, and dementia than those without hearing loss.

Untreated hearing loss also can interfere with cognitive abilities because so much effort is put toward processing and understanding speech. As people age, basic cognitive skills, including working memory and processing can decline, which may negatively affect the ability to process speech in a noisy environment, or the ability to process information quickly. Research has also demonstrated that hearing aid use can reduce the social, functional and emotional consequences of hearing loss.

If you’re ready to learn how hearing aids can improve your cognitive performance and overall quality of life, contact Associated Audiologists today and make an appointment at our Manhattan, KS, or Kansas City locations.

How hearing aids improve cognitive performance

A new study from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center found that older adults who used a hearing aid performed significantly better on cognitive tests than those who did not use a hearing aid, despite having poorer hearing. The study was published online in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

The study included 100 adults with hearing loss between the ages of 80 and 99. Of the participants, 34 regularly used a hearing aid. Audiometry tests were performed to measure the degree of hearing loss. Cognitive function was evaluated by the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), in which participants give vocal responses to verbal commands. Executive function also was assessed with the Trail Making Test, Part B (TMT-B), which does not have a verbal or auditory component. Highlights included:

  • Hearing aid users, who had poorer hearing than non-users, performed significantly (1.9 points) better on the MMSE.
  • Among non-hearing aid users, participants with more hearing loss also had lower MMSE scores than those with better hearing.
  • Hearing aid users performed better than non-users on the executive function tests as measured by the TMT-B, but the difference was not statistically significant.

In addition, TMT-B scores were not correlated with hearing level. The authors concluded the study suggests that using a hearing aid may offer a simple, yet important way to prevent or slow the development of dementia and improve cognitive function in older adults.

Improved brain function for adults in 50s and 60s

Hearing loss also affects 10 million Americans ages 45 to 64, but only about 20 percent of people in this age category who actually need hearing aids wear them. This recent study from the speech-language pathology program at the University of Texas, El Paso looked at a group of individuals in their 50s and 60s with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss who had previously never used hearing aids.

They used cognitive tests to measure their working memory, selective attention and processing speed abilities prior to and after using the hearing aids. After two weeks of hearing aid use, tests revealed an increase in percent scores for recalling words in working memory and selective attention tests, and the processing speed at which participants selected the correct response was faster. By the end of the study, participants had exhibited significant improvement in their overall cognitive function.

These studies underscore the connection between hearing loss and other significant health issues including dementia, brain shrinkage, depression, falling, hospitalization, mortality, and overall physical and mental health.

“As our population ages and hearing loss becomes more prevalent, research continues to support improved cognitive function for individuals who wear hearing aids,” said Tim Steele, Ph.D., FAAA, President, Associated Audiologists. “As audiologists, our role is to partner with our patients and their primary care providers to improve their hearing and quality of life through appropriate assessment and hearing aid technology, audiologic rehabilitation, and regular follow-up, when applicable.”