Recent studies have indicated that hearing aids could potentially improve cognitive decline, an eventual outcome for those affected by hearing loss.
Hearing loss is very common in older adults. On average, based on studies in Australia, Europe and the US, it affects around 32 per cent of people aged 55 years old, and more than 70 per cent of people aged over 70 years. In Australia, it is estimated that 1 in 4 people will experience hearing loss by 2050.
Research shows us that the rate of cognitive decline increases with the severity of hearing loss. Even for people with mild hearing loss, the rate of cognitive decline can be 30 to 40 per cent faster than for a person with normal hearing. In fact, the reported risk of developing dementia for people with mild hearing loss is almost double that of a person with normal hearing, while the risk for people with a severe hearing loss is almost five times higher. Some recent studies have found that this increased risk of cognitive decline can also affect people who develop hearing loss in mid-life, before the age of 50.
New research, published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, has found that after 18 months of hearing aid use, 97.3 per cent of people in our study showed either a clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function.
Women, in particular, showed significant improvements in working memory as well as most other cognitive functions we assessed. Other factors likely to influence cognition are also looked at including; social participation, genetic risk, loneliness, quality of life, mood, diet and physical activity. Initial results suggest that instead of declining, cognitive function in older adults with hearing loss who use hearing aids can not only remain stable, but can even improve significantly over time.
More frequent use of hearing aids is associated with greater improvements in cognitive function. It seems possible, based on these results, that the treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids may delay cognitive decline. In fact, hearing aid use could be a very safe and economical way to preserve cognitive function and improve quality of life for longer for older adults.
But despite the effectiveness of hearing aids as a treatment of hearing loss, it’s estimated that up to 76 per cent of people who need hearing aids do not have them. Of the very small number of people who do own hearing aids, a recent report showed that 24 per cent do not use them. The results of this study may encourage a greater number of people to use hearing aids in the future.