Cognitive decline is one of the many health concerns related to untreated hearing loss. Even among groups of people who are otherwise demographically identical in terms of age, race, gender, education, income, and other measures, those with hearing loss are much more likely to develop dementia than those who do not have hearing loss. These statistics have been borne out in countless studies, but researchers continue to seek answers as to why. Many look to the way that the brain uses spoken language to connect with complex thought, and hearing loss gets in the way of hearing what others have to say.
With these facts in mind, you might be curious what effect hearing aids can have. Does wearing hearing aids eliminate this higher incidence of dementia? Does it reduce the risk? A recent study has engaged with these questions to get some answers. The results are quite positive for those who have treatment for hearing loss! Those who have not yet received treatment should use this information as a prompt to get a hearing test and seek assistance right away. The benefits for your cognitive health can make the difference between developing dementia later in life.
Published under the title, “Association of the use of hearing aids with the conversion from mild cognitive impairment to dementia and progression of dementia: A longitudinal retrospective study” in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions, a team of researchers used a large data set of 2114 hearing-impaired patients to measure the effect of hearing aids on future rates of dementia. They were particularly interested in patients that had mild cognitive impairment, wondering whether they would eventually develop dementia or not.
The researchers used data that tracked these patients over time, and the longitudinal aspect of the study was crucial to understanding what would happen down the road for those who did and did not wear hearing aids. The results showed that, indeed, those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to develop dementia after they had already been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. Although hearing aids did not completely eliminate the additional risk of dementia associated with hearing loss, they did provide a significant reduction.
What remains to be better understood is now hearing loss contributes to dementia in the first place. The study acknowledges that there are many different ways that hearing loss might be connected with cognitive functioning. Some of these include the reallocation of cognitive resources to auditory perceptual processing, cognitive deterioration due to long-term deprivation of auditory input, a common neurodegenerative process in the aging brain, and social isolation caused by both sensory and cognitive loss.
Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss
Each of these explanations highlights the importance of hearing for cognition, as well as language and speech processing. When we speak with others and listen to what they have to say, our brains engage in a rapid process of decoding syllables and turning those fragments of sound into meaningful information. Not only do we put together a puzzle of different sounds, but we also learn from the way things are said. Subtleties like tone of voice, emphasis, volume, and pronunciation are used to develop rich meaning from speech. When hearing loss gets in the way of receiving this information, our brains are deprived of some of the complexity we had formerly processed. This study demonstrates that something about hearing aids restores that process to the mind, keeping it active, agile, and healthy in the future.
If you have someone in your life who requires hearing assistance, this finding can provide even more encouragement to get help. Although mild cognitive impairment is quite common in the golden years of life, that impairment doesn’t need to develop into full-blown dementia. On the contrary, hearing aids can help your loved one remain connected, socially engaged, and fully present in conversations, reaping all the benefits that mental activity provides for future cognition.
Don’t let dementia loom in the future. With hearing assistance, your loved one can reduce the risk of turning mild cognitive impairment into dementia down the road. Why not help your loved one schedule a hearing test today?