In the United States (as well as globally), the population is growing older which means that people are living longer. According to experts, this trend also means that there can be a greater risk of dementia. Dementia is a condition that takes a toll on cognitive functions which includes memory, learning, behavior, decision making, and communication. Dementia, which encompasses conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, can significantly impact capacity to perform everyday activities and navigate daily life independently. Because there are no cures or ways of reversing dementia, there is significant research that focuses on identifying risk factors that can be modified. A recent study found that hearing aids can reduce the risk of dementia by nearly 50%.
Link Between Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline
Research from the past decade has established hearing loss as a risk factor for cognitive decline. There are numerous studies that highlight that hearing loss can impact brain health in ways that contribute to cognitive decline. Two significant studies that investigate this link are:
1. Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association: this study involved 10,107 people who had their cognitive and hearing capacities evaluated for 8 years. Researchers found that cognitive decline was:
- 30% higher for people with mild hearing loss
- 42% higher for people with moderate hearing loss
- 54% higher for people with severe hearing loss
These findings clearly show that people with hearing loss were much more likely to experience cognitive decline. Also, this data illuminates that the severity of hearing loss can further increase the risk.
2. University of Colorado, published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America: researchers in the Department of Speech-Language and Hearing Science at the University of Colorado looked closely at how hearing loss impacts the brain. They did this by taking electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings of people with hearing loss. Researchers found that people who had hearing loss also experienced:
- less activity in the portions of the brain that are responsible for speech-language comprehension and processing auditory information.
- reorganization in the areas that process visual patterns.
This study helps identify specific ways that the brain can respond to hearing loss. According to experts, less activity in certain areas of the brain can shrink them which can lead to a loss of neurons, restructuring, changing of neural pathways etc. – known as brain atrophy which can lead to cognitive decline
These studies and further research show that there is a major link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. This makes room to also study the impact of hearing loss interventions on brain health.
Hearing Aids Reduce Risk of Dementia
Hearing aids are the most common way that hearing loss is treated. Hearing aids are a type of electronic device that absorbs and processes sound. The support they provide alleviates hearing loss symptoms and also increases hearing capacity. Not only does this improve hearing and communication, but it also provides countless benefits that transform quality of life. This includes supporting overall health, one key way is by reducing health risks like cognitive decline.
A recently published study in the emerging research that focuses on how hearing aids impact brain health, explores the cognitive benefits of hearing aids. Conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine, this study involved more than 3,000 people. This sample population included a healthy group of adults and older adults from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, an observational study of cardiovascular health. Participants were divided into two groups at random which included a control group that received counseling in chronic disease prevention as well as an intervention group that received treatment from an audiologist (a hearing healthcare specialist) which included hearing aids. Researchers evaluated all participants every 6 months for three years and found that the people who were the adults that were more at risk of developing cognitive decline, significantly benefited from hearing aids. Hearing aids actually slowed the rate of cognitive decline by 48%. This critical and exciting new finding shows that hearing aids can support brain health in ways that reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
It is important to prioritize your hearing health. You can do this by scheduling an appointment for a hearing evaluation. Contact us today to learn more!