A study published last year in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has found that for people with hearing loss, wearing hearing aids may reduce the risk of common health problems related to aging: dementia, depression and falls.
The study is a key contribution to a growing body of research linking hearing loss to memory issues, including dementia. In fact, it is the largest study to explore the connection between hearing aids and delayed onset of dementia.
About the Study
According to study author Elham Mahmoudi, Ph.D., “Cognitive decline is much higher among people with hearing loss.” However, new findings show that people who receive hearing aids within three years of being diagnosed with hearing loss have lower rates of dementia, depression and falls than those who don’t get treated.
Researchers at the University of Michigan examined managed care insurance claims from nearly 115,000 adults with hearing loss over age 66. They looked at insurance claims for three years after the initial diagnosis to determine which people were prescribed a hearing aid and which weren’t, and compared both groups to see who later developed dementia, depression or fall-related injury.
How Hearing Loss Affects the Brain
There are no sure answers about the effects of hearing loss on the brain, but there are several theories.
One theory is when your hearing is damaged, the brain expends more effort to decode sound signals than it takes in. This takes cognitive resources away from other brain functions, like memory.
Another theory is that hearing loss changes the physical structure of a brain in a way that harms memory. Some evidence from brain imaging studies supports this.
Finally, hearing loss creates feelings of loneliness and causes people to become socially isolated – a well-known risk factor for a number of health problems, including dementia and Alzheimer’s.
While there is no proof hearing loss is a causeof dementia, it is clear that the two conditions are related. More research is needed to uncover the exact nature of this link.
The Benefits of Hearing Aids
The study also does not confirm that using hearing aids can prevent dementia; their use is merely associated with a lower risk.
According to Jennifer Deal, Ph.D., assistant scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “If someone is considering a hearing aid, we do know that it should help improve the quality of life, help with communication… We do know there are benefits, we just don’t know if cognition is one of them.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the experts at Chelmsford Hearing Group.