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Staying sharp: Hearing aids may slow cognitive decline

Ground-breaking research, run over three years, suggests that wearing hearing aids can slow down the rate of cognitive decline by up to 50% in older adults at high risk of dementia.

Early results show that not only will wearing your hearing aids help you hear better, but they may also help preserve your cognitive abilities and maintain a sharper mind.

This is especially important as we’re all living longer and are at a higher risk of dementia.

The link between hearing loss and dementia

An article we published last year explored the clear link between hearing loss and developing dementia.

In the article, we discussed:

  • The constant struggle to hear and understand speech, especially where there’s background noise, puts a heavy load on our brain.
  • Hearing loss can lead to a 40% decrease in the brain’s capacity for speech and hearing memory.
  • It can also lead to social isolation, loneliness, and depression.

Unlike some medical interventions, using hearing aids is a non-invasive approach that fits easily into your daily routine.

Treating hearing loss may be a safer way to lower the risk of dementia in vulnerable populations.

The study: hearing aid versus health education

The research team was co-led by Dr. Frank Lin from Johns Hopkins University in the United States. The clinical trial involved around 1,000 adults, ages 70 to 84.

Their task was to compare the rate of cognitive decline over three years between people who did and didn’t receive hearing aids.

  • About 250 healthy older adults came from a long-term study of heart health at four sites in the U.S.
  • This group had more risk factors for developing dementia; they were older and were experiencing faster rates of cognitive decline than those from the general community.
  • A further 739 people were recruited from the surrounding communities at the same four sites.
  • About half of the participants received hearing aids and were shown how to use them.
  • The other half were offered a health education program on promoting healthy ageing.
  • Both groups received follow-up visits every six months to reinforce the training.

Before starting the study, all participants took several tests to measure their cognitive functioning. They were then retested every year for three years. The results were published on July 17, 2023, in The Lancet.

The results

  • People who received hearing aids reported substantial improvement in communication abilities throughout the study.
  • Those in the health-education group, as expected, did not experience improvement in hearing and communication.

The researchers saw no difference in the rate of change in cognitive functioning between people who received hearing aids and those who didn’t.

However, when the analysis focused on people from the heart health study who had a higher risk of dementia, the benefit of the hearing aids was significant.

In this group, people who received hearing aids had an almost 50% reduction in the rate of cognitive decline compared with those in the health-education group.

Hearing aids have an important role in your well-being as you get older

We all want to stay healthy as we get older. Being part of conversations with the people we know and love is essential for our well-being.

Cognitive decline can cast a shadow on our daily lives.

But with the right intervention, like wearing hearing aids, we have an opportunity to enhance not just our hearing but our cognitive health.

And we can keep doing all the things that add value to our everyday lives, whether doing the daily crossword or keeping in touch with people via our phones or computers.

We’re here to support your health and well-being

As your hearing care consultant, I aim to guide you toward optimal hearing health. Based on the results of this study, we also see this goes hand in hand with cognitive wellness.

If you haven’t had a hearing check for a while, perhaps it’s time. We recommend having your hearing checked every year or so. During your appointment, we’ll provide a personalised solution tailored to your needs.

If you would like to arrange a free hearing test and consultation, contact your local My Hearing clinic on 1300 970 558 for an appointment.