Hearing loss in seniors is related to cognitive decline but can be reduced with hearing aids. Over time hearing loss can occur in seniors due to years of loud noises or even changes to the ears themselves. Much research has come out to support the evidence that hearing loss can speed up cognitive decline.
One study had volunteers with hearing loss undergo cognitive testing over the course of six years. Researchers found that those with hearing loss had 30 to 40 percent more cognitive decline than individuals with normal hearing. Level of cognition was directly related to the amount of hearing loss the person had. The researchers suggest that, on average, seniors with hearing loss experience cognitive decline 3.2 years sooner than those with healthy hearing.
Senior study investigator, Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., said, “Our results show that hearing loss should not be considered an inconsequential part of aging, because it may come with some serious long-term consequences to healthy brain functioning. Our findings emphasize just how important it is for physicians to discuss hearing with their patients and to be proactive in addressing any hearing declines over time.”
New study shows hearing aids reduce risk of cognitive decline in the elderly
We know that hearing loss in seniors can speed up cognitive decline, but new research suggests that hearing aids can help maintain cognition or slow down cognitive decline. The findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, where researchers compared cognitive decline in seniors who used hearing aids with those who did not.
Between the two groups there were no cognitive differences, meaning that the use of hearing aids could maintain cognitive function just as well as not having hearing loss. The researchers did note that untreated hearing loss was associated with significant cognitive decline.
Donald Schum, Ph.D., vice president of Audiology and Professional Relations for Oticon Inc., said, “Improved communication made possible by hearing aids resulted in improved mood, social interactions and cognitively stimulating abilities and is the most likely underlying reason for the decreased cognitive decline reported in the study.”
The study not only reaffirms that hearing loss can contribute to cognitive decline, but offers a solution: wearing hearing aids can effectively help to maintain cognition.
Previous study links hearing loss to dementia
A previous study by Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging found that hearing loss is linked with higher rates of dementia. The researchers suggest that a common pathology may link the two conditions, and hearing loss can promote social isolation, which is another risk factor for hearing loss.
Study leader Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., said, “Researchers have looked at what affects hearing loss, but few have looked at how hearing loss affects cognitive brain function. There hasn’t been much crosstalk between otologists and geriatricians, so it’s been unclear whether hearing loss and dementia are related.”
The research team used data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging, which tracked thousands of men and women for decades. The researchers focused on 639 individuals with hearing loss and had their cognitive abilities tested. At the beginning of the study none of the participants had dementia.
By the end of the study 58 participants developed dementia, and the researchers concluded that hearing loss at the beginning of the study was a strong predictor of future dementia. It was found that volunteers with any hearing loss had a higher risk of developing dementia than the volunteers with healthy hearing. The risk increased twofold, threefold and fivefold for those with mild, moderate and severe hearing loss. Basically, the more hearing loss the volunteer experienced, the higher their risk was for developing dementia or another memory-declining condition.
Dr. Lin concluded, “A lot of people ignore hearing loss because it’s such a slow and insidious process as we age. Even if people feel as if they are not affected, we’re showing that it may well be a more serious problem.”
Researchers find strong link between hearing loss and depression in adults
Aside from hearing loss being closely linked to cognitive decline, other research has revealed that adults with hearing loss are also at a higher risk for depression. The study found that compared to those without hearing loss, those with the condition had an 11 percent increased risk of developing depression.
Study author Dr. Chuan-Ming Li said, “We found a significant association between hearing impairment and moderate to severe depression. The cause-and-effect relationship is unknown.”
James Firman, Ed.D., president and CEO of the National Council on Aging and reviewer of the study, said, “It is not surprising to me that they would be more likely to be depressed. People with hearing loss, especially those who don’t use hearing aids, find it more difficult to communicate with other people, whether in family situations, social gatherings or at work.”
The researchers examined data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which included over 18,000 participants. Hearing status was self reported and participants over the age of 70 answered a questionnaire designed to reveal depression.
The further hearing loss worsened the more the depression did. Hearing loss and depression were closely related in those aged 18 to 69, and in women more than men.
In order to preserve mental well-being, Dr. Robert Frisina, director of the Global Center for Hearing & Speech Research at the University of South Florida, suggested, “If you have hearing loss, you need to go to an audiologist and otolaryngologist and have it diagnosed properly, and then you can look at treatment options.”
Consequences of untreated hearing loss and benefits of using hearing aids
The American Academy of Audiology conducted a survey among seniors with untreated hearing loss to determine the consequences of untreated hearing loss. The respondents reported the following:
- Feelings of sadness or depression
- Feeling anger for no apparent reason
- Social isolation
- People getting angry at them
- Less likely to partake in social activities
Although hearing loss cannot be reversed, hearing aids can be an easy alternative to improving and maintaining hearing. Here are some other benefits, aside from hearing, that wearing a hearing aids can provide based on the survey results:
- Improved at-home relationships
- Improved feelings about self
- Improved life overall
- Improved relationship with children, grandchildren
- Improved mental health
- Boosted self-confidence
- Increased sense of safety
- Improved social life
- Improved relations at work
- Improved sex life
Hearing aids can provide many benefits; unfortunately, not everyone has access to them, either due to cost or insurance complications. Furthermore, seniors may not wish to get them for fear they will look “old” or because they believe they are just fine without them.
Family and friends should encourage seniors to get hearing aids when possible as they can help greatly improve their overall lives.