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Studies have shown for some time that there is a powerful connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Study after study has shown that those who have hearing loss have not only a higher likelihood of developing cognitive conditions such as dementia, but they also have a faster pace of decline once these conditions set in.
Dr. Frank Lin at Johns Hopkins University is one of the top experts in the field, investigating this powerful relationship at the level of population statistics, as well as exploring possible ways the connection might work within the body and brain. Many of these studies of hearing loss and cognitive decline, however, have not asked the complementary question: what happens if a person with hearing loss wears hearing aids? Does the relationship with cognitive decline go away?
A recent study has taken up this topic, with promising findings for the possibility that consistent use of hearing aids can wipe out that negative effect on cognition.
Researchers at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, led by Dr. Asri Maharani, have published a study under the title “Longitudinal Relationship Between Hearing Aid Use and Cognitive Function in Older Americans” in the April 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.
This study used a big data set from the Health and Retirement Study to look at the hearing outcomes from people over the age of 50 who started wearing hearing aids. This study asked people about their behavior, ability, and lifestyle every 2 years for the duration of 18 years, providing remarkably rich and multi-faceted data. With this information in hand, the researchers analyzed the effects on cognitive ability for people before and after they began wearing hearing aids.
A full 2,040 people in the study started wearing hearing aids during the time of the long-term study, making it possible to compare their cognitive ability before and after the use of hearing aids. Other studies have focused on comparing the cognitive outcomes of those who wear hearing aids with those who do not, but it is difficult to tell if there is some other factor making their cognition better.
For instance, those who wear hearing aids might also take part in other health behaviors that make them more likely to have better brain health. The benefit of this study is that it compares the rate of cognitive decline in people before they get hearing aids with the rate of decline after they start using them.
The results of the study are remarkable. The rate of cognitive decline was indeed slower in individuals when they started wearing hearing aids. These advanced statistical methods took into account many other confounding factors, as well as the outcomes of people who left the study before they were able to be included.
The rigor of this study provides convincing evidence that wearing hearing aids slows down the process of cognitive decline. How did they measure cognitive decline, you might ask?
The test was quite simple but has been recognized as a good way to understand memory loss. An interviewer would read a list of 10 simple nouns, such as book,” “child,” or “hotel.” Research participants were asked to repeat that list immediately after it was read and then again after a short interval. This test did not necessarily cover long-term memory, which works differently in the mind, but it did capture short-term memory, which is highly correlated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
This simple test demonstrated that, although age did relate with cognitive decline in general, the rate of memory loss in the test was slower for individuals after they started wearing hearing aids.
The Benefits of Treating Hearing Loss
With these results in mind, it is more important than ever to seek treatment for hearing loss. Although the practical, everyday benefits include more enjoyment of life, healthier relationships, and more comfort in social settings, the benefits for physical, mental, and even cognitive health are such that you can’t justify delaying treatment.
With the new year underway, why not take the opportunity to schedule a hearing test? Once you have an assessment of your hearing ability in hand, you can embark on the process of treatment and expect benefits for your brain! Contact us today!