Hearing Aids May Prevent Cognitive Decline in Older Adults
Hearing loss is one of the most inconvenient aspects of about aging. And it seems almost inevitable: according to the National Institute on Aging, hearing loss is one of the most common conditions in the aging population. In the U.S. alone, it occurs in one in three people between the ages of 65-74, and nearly one in two people age 75 and older.
But what is of even more concern is that age-related hearing loss is not just an inconvenience. There is also a definitive link between hearing loss and cognitive decline.*
The good news is, hearing aids may help. We know... easier said than done. Hearing aids still have a stigma associated with them, even though today's hearing devices are very different from the ones we may remember. The decision to consider a hearing aid should be discussed openly with loved ones who are adamant about not needing them, because their quality of life may be improved significantly by adopting that one change. In this safe space, we can talk about the potential risk factors and understand the importance of healthy hearing.
Left in the Dark
According to Dr. Lin, cognitive functions are so strongly related to sensorimotor function (vision, hearing, balance), especially in elderly persons, that the loss of one of these senses may bring on cognitive decline. The study is complex and daunting, but basically, imagine a sensory deprivation tank - all the time. The Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging, confirming Dr. Lin’s findings, determined that older adults with hearing loss were more likely to develop dementia than older adults with normal hearing.
Dr. Lin’s study discussed multiple reasons for the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Here are some of the main issues:
Hearing loss may lead to social isolation and depression, known risk factors for cognitive decline.
Hearing loss may cause the brain to utilize extra resources to process sound, at the expense of short-term memory and thinking.
Hearing loss may be the result of an untreated brain injury that could be the cause of both hearing loss and reduced cognitive function.
So, how can hearing aids help?
The feelings of isolation, reduced quality of life, and even depression associated with hearing loss can actually be halted - or reversed - when hearing aids are used. A study by the University of Maryland Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences found that the use of hearing aids not only restores the capacity to hear, but can improve brain function and working memory. This addresses many of the common communication issues that arise as we get older. When we can be part of the conversation, we feel more vibrant and more relevant.
Healthy Aging Includes Healthy Hearing
If left untreated, hearing loss may result in a poorer quality of life, related to isolation, reduced social activity, a feeling of being excluded, and increased symptoms of depression. So, what can you do to prevent potential cognitive decline?
"If hearing loss is indeed a cause of cognitive decline, this is a very strong argument for early detection of hearing loss and fitting of hearing aids" -Stig Arlinger
Remember, hearing health is an important aspect of overall health! There is no shame in following important tips for healthy aging – including seeing an audiologist as part of your annual health routine.
*Source: Dr. Frank Lin, John Hopkins University 2013