I am always interested in new research studies published in the hearing space and recently I came across an exciting one. I have written before about the increased risk of dementia associated with hearing loss (here and here) and linked to previous research studies that demonstrate this connection. But the question of whether utilizing hearing devices could lessen these risks was never addressed, until now.
A new study published in the October issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society concludes, “Self-reported hearing loss is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older adults; hearing aid use attenuates such decline.” In other words, hearing aid use seemed to help prevent accelerated cognitive decline.
The study entitled “Self-Reported Hearing Loss, Hearing Aids, and Cognitive Decline in Elderly Adults” was conducted in France using data from a 25-year study on brain aging. At the start of the study, the researchers asked the participants to self-report if they had hearing loss or not and then followed their performance on mental acuity tests over time.
The researchers found that over the time of the study, those that reported hearing loss and wore hearing aids exhibited cognitive decline that was the same magnitude as that of participants that did not self-report hearing loss. Those with self-reported hearing loss that did not wear hearing devices showed a more steep decline in cognitive function. In other words, among those with hearing loss, the ones that used hearing aids had better cognitive function over time than those that did not.
Interestingly, the report goes on to say that the isolation and depression associated with untreated hearing loss seemed to be the primary cause of the difference in the two groups (those that treated their hearing loss and those that did not). If the researchers controlled for that variable, both groups showed similar rates of cognitive decline.
Significant questions still remain (there was a very small sample size, for one), but in my mind, the evidence is building. The risks of ignoring your hearing loss are just too high, both in terms of quality of life today, but also as relates to mental acuity over time. Accepting your hearing loss and getting the care you need to treat it are important paths to sustained vibrancy.
If this is the case, changes in legislation are necessary, including the routine inclusion of hearing tests, aural rehabilitation and hearing devices in Medicare and other insurance plans. Screenings for hearing loss by primary care doctors should also be the norm. Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) has issued position papers addressing these issues head on. You can read these here and here.
Readers, do you think using hearing devices helps support better cognitive function over time?