As you many have heard by now, hearing loss has been found to be strongly correlated with an increased risk for cognitive decline and dementia. In fact, a recent study conducted by John Hopkins University found that older people with hearing loss experienced a 30-40 percent quicker rate in decline than same age peers without hearing loss. The study also found that people with hearing loss, on average, experienced decline 3.2 years before those without a hearing impairment (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/25/well/vision-and-hearing-loss-are-tied-to-cognitive-decline.html).
While there is no escaping the reality of the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline – there is hope on the horizon. Newer studies have also found that hearing aids can actually mitigate and decrease the rate of cognitive decline in adults with hearing loss.
The study was published just last month in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society and carried out by researchers at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Authors of the study Asri Maharani and Piers Dawes, along with their team used data collected by the Hearing and Retirement Study (HRS). The HRS surveys participants over the age of fifty, every two years. For this research, data from 1996 to 2014 was used.
There are multiple data points collected by the HRS, but for their purposes Maharani and Dawes at al. looked at hearing aid use, and episodic memory loss. Hearing aid use was self-reported by participants during interview through routine biennial data collection processes. To assess episodic memory, participants were asked to immediately repeat back a list of simple nouns and interviewer had read to them. The amount of words read by the participant was recorded and this variable was tracked every two years for 18 years.
Episodic memory was chosen as the focal point by the researchers because it is thought to be the most sensitive measure of cognitive decline and also shares a strong correlation with dementia.
Hearing aid use was self-reported, so frequency of use and fit of hearing aids was not tracked. The average age of first time hearing aid use amongst participants was 62 (http://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearingnewswatch/2018/hearing-aids-slow-cognitive-decline-study/).
Findings of the Study
Amazingly, the results of the study did find that hearing aids mitigate the trajectory of cognitive decline. For all 2,040 self-reported hearing aid users, episodic memory decline did still occur with age, however, it was at a slower rate than those who did not report using hearing aids. It was also found that episodic memory declined an a much slower rate at about the same time hearing aids were introduced (http://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearingnewswatch/2018/hearing-aids-slow-cognitive-decline-study/). These results remained intact after adjusting for other factors such as socioeconomic status, overall health and many other demographic characteristics.
Results of the Study
Authors of the study are very excited about the results. They outline that access to quality hearing health care has potential for slowing the process of cognitive decline – which has become a growing international issue. “Hearing aids may have a mitigating effect on trajectories of cognitive decline in later life,” the authors write. “Providing hearing aids or other rehabilitative services for hearing impairment much earlier in the course of hearing impairment may stem the worldwide rise of dementia” (https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/alzheimers-disease-and-dementia/hearing-aids-mitigate-cognitive-decline-memory-loss/article/759753/).
Why is This Important?
In the United States, there are currently an estimated 5 million people living with dementia, and as our population continues to age, this number is expected to rise. At the moment, it is estimated that one out of every six women and one out of every ten men who live past the age of 55 will develop dementia in their lifetime. The most common and possibly most well-known type if dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease and the second most common type is vascular dementia (https://braintest.com/dementia-stats-u-s-worldwide/).
How Hearing Health Portland Can Help
At Hearing Health, we care deeply about your hearing as well as your cognitive health! Be cognizant of the early signs of hearing loss, which include hearing, but not understanding conversations, increased frustration when communicating with groups of people, or requests from family to turn down the volume on the TV. If you notice one or more of these, each out to our friendly team today. We look forward to answering any questions you may have and walking you through the steps towards better hearing and a healthier you!