Frequently, people don’t see the value in treating hearing loss early on, or sometimes even at all. But new research into the connections between wearing hearing aids and dementia is changing people’s minds, literally!
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.
The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
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 also has shown that hearing aid use can reduce the social, functional and emotional consequences of hearing loss.
Hearing Aids Improve Cognitive Performance for People Over 80
A 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 in which participants give vocal responses to verbal commands.
Executive function also was assessed with the Trail Making Test, Part B, which does not have a verbal or auditory component.
The researchers concluded 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.
Hearing Aids Improved Brain Function for Adults in Their 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.
A 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 hearing loss who had previously never used hearing aids.
The researchers used cognitive tests to measure participants’ 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 showed significant improvement in their overall cognitive function.
A Connection Between Hearing Loss and Health Issues
This research underscores the connection between hearing loss and other significant health issues including dementia, brain shrinkage, depression, falling, hospitalization, death 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. “We are finding that hearing aids can literally change your mind for the better as you age.”