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Hearing Aids Can Prevent Mental Decline

Hearing Aids prevent cognitive decline

An increasing number of research efforts are linking untreated hearing loss to thinking and memory problems, including dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Many of these studies indicate that hearing aids should be used as early as hearing loss symptoms can be verified, but evidence supporting hearing aids as a preventive therapy have been largely theoretical. That has changed recently, with new research just published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society by researchers at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Bordeaux France. The study followed 3,670 adults, age 65 and older over a 25-year period.

The main findings of this ground-breaking research indicate that “Use of hearing aids attenuates cognitive decline in elderly people with hearing loss”. The study found that people treated with hearing aids for their hearing loss showed the same rate of cognitive decline as a control group with no prior hearing loss. As a contrast, people with untreated hearing loss scored significantly lower baseline scores on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), a well-established test for determining cognitive function.

The bottom line? Hearing aids appear to have a positive effect on thinking and memory functions, by restoring communication abilities and promoting social interaction, qualities that are known to reduce isolation and resulting depression.

What does this mean to an aging population? “These results argue in favor of screening and rehabilitation of hearing disorders in elderly people,” said Prof. Amieva, a leading researcher in the Neuropsychology and Epidemiology of Aging at the University of Bordeaux, France. “We now have a set of data that is sufficiently robust to assert that hearing loss induces accelerated cognitive decline in the elderly, and hearing aids can attenuate this decline.”

Dr. Li-Korotky, AuD, PhD, F-AAA , is Board Certified in Audiology, and CEO of Pacific Northwest Audiology.

Hearing Loss Linked to Dementia

A Cautionary Tale

Mounting evidence has established a  strong link between untreated hearing loss and diminished cognitive function, including dementia. Studies also link untreated hearing loss to other medical and emotional problems, including depression.

This is a cautionary tale, but a light shines brightly to guide our passage away from danger: Hearing Loss Can End Badly—but we have options!

First, the bad news. Mounting evidence has established a strong link between untreated hearing loss (HL) and diminished cognitive function, accelerated mental decline, rapid rates of brain tissue loss, and other disabling conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. People who don’t hear well tend to withdraw from social activities, and that can lead to depression and early mortality.

The link between HL and dementia is reinforced by statistical and brain scan studies from hearing and social neuroscience research, and backed by compelling theories for how HL promotes dementia.

Dr. Frank Lin from John Hopkins Medicine has identified three primary pathways to dementia and other bad health outcomes:

  1. HL increases the cognitive load on the brain. Struggling to understand speech causes the brain to focus on sound processing at the expense of memory, thinking, and learning processes. Robbing Peter to pay Paul leads to a cascade of bad consequences, leaving seniors vulnerable to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. Even mild HL hastens brain tissue loss, and seniors with untreated hearing problems are much more susceptible to brain tissue loss and other unwanted brain structural changes than seniors with normal hearing. This is significant because the brain tissue loss occurs where memory and sensory integration are processed, causing a negative feedback loop that leaves seniors vulnerable to dementia.
  3. People who can’t hear well tend to avoid social engagement. This puts them at a higher risk for becoming socially isolated, lonely, and depressed—and that exposes them to a perfect storm for developing dementia and early death.

Now the good news: new research just published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society by researchers at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Bordeaux, France found that hearing aids reduce the threat of accelerated cognitive decline. The Bordeaux study revealed that elderly people with HL who used hearing aids were spared the augmented levels of cognitive decline suffered by others with HL who didn’t use hearing aids.

Social neuroscience research found similar results

Dr. Cacioppo is the Director of the Center for Cognitive & Social Neuroscience and Chair of the Social Psychology Program at the University of Chicago. Decades of research inform the doctor that we are social by design. That means we are hard wired to connect with others. In fact, our need for social interaction is as fundamental as our need for food and water because the consequent social behaviors helped us survive & reproduce.

Highlights from social neuroscience research:

  • Socially connected people are more likely to have good physical health and psychological well-being.
  • People with strong social networks generally live longer. They also have lower rates of anxiety and depression.
  • Forming strong social bonds creates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.
  • Conversely, lack of social bonding often contributes to a negative feedback loop of isolation, deep loneliness, and antisocial behavior, often leading to bad health outcomes for aging adults, including depression and dementia!

But you can’t connect with people if you can’t hear them, so it is vitally important that hearing and communication problems aren’t keeping you from a socially rewarding life.The bottom line? Hearing empowers social health and social health empower life!

See our Brochure on Hearing Loss and Dementia, here

 

Breaking News - Hearing Aids prevent Dementia study

 

Age-related Hearing Loss (ARHL)

The ‘baby boom’ generation is aging. In 2009, people over 65 represented 12.9% of the population, but by 2030, they will be 19.3%. From the Administration on Aging, the number of Americans over 65 is expected to double between 2008 and 2030 to around 72 million.

Why should we be concerned? Because Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition among older adults! According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, hearing loss increases with age. Approximately one third of Americans between 65 and 74 and nearly half of those over 75 have hearing and communication problems.

What is Age-related Hearing Loss? ARHL is a gradual and progressive hearing loss that affects most people as they age. Due to the slow progression, adults with ARHL may not realize that their hearing and communication abilities are declining, or they may accept it as a normal part of aging.

ARHL has serious consequences for the elderly because it diminishes their ability to communicate and reduces their functional independence.

See the complete article on age-related hearing loss here