Recent studies performed at Johns Hopkins University have shown a correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline. In their most recent study, published in 2013, 2,000 older adults (average age: 77) were tracked for a period of six years. Those who began the study with the worst hearing loss – hearing loss which interferes with daily conversational ability – were 24 percent more likely to see a decline in cognitive ability compared to individuals with normal hearing. A similar study published in 2011 concluded that persons with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely to develop dementia. These figures are striking and hard to refute.
Though the reason for the correlation isn’t completely understood, several theories exist. It may be that the increased cognitive load when trying to hear properly taxes the brain’s resources that would otherwise be available for memory and concentration. Alternatively, another factor may be the social isolation many individuals with hearing loss experience. Hearing loss causes social withdrawal, leading to isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and/or paranoia; this lack of socialization has been shown to accelerate cognitive decline.
In an effort to determine whether hearing devices could help delay or prevent cognitive decline, French researchers undertook a study involving 3,670 participants over 25 years. The patients who wore hearing devices experienced cognitive decline at a rate comparable to the control (normal-hearing) group, while those who did not treat their hearing loss had significantly lower scores on a test used to measure cognitive performance.
The conclusion? Individuals who treat their hearing loss with hearing devices experience lower rates of cognitive decline, and, subsequently, report improvements in their overall quality of life, including better relations at home, feelings of self, sense of safety, self-confidence, and social life.