A new study published in the medical journal The Lancet found that hearing aids might slow cognitive decline for at-risk older adults with hearing loss.
Sadie Braun, audiologist and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois, said she’ll incorporate these findings into her counseling with patients.
“For people who have any sort of high risk for cognitive decline such as dementia (or) Alzheimer’s, this study tells us that those individuals should get hearing aids as soon as they need them,” Braun said. “The average person waits 5 to 7 years or more to get hearing aids once they know they have a hearing loss.”
The study, co-led by Dr Frank Lin of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, analysed cognitive performance for groups of older adults (ages 70–84) with untreated hearing loss.
Participants were randomly assigned to either the control group that received counselling on disease prevention, or to the intervention group, which received regular audiology treatment and hearing aids.
Researchers followed up with participants every six months for three years. For participants at lower risk of cognitive decline, hearing aid interventions showed no significant effect on cognitive function. But for participants with high risk for dementia, cognitive decline slowed by 48 percent over the three-year period.
“That’s a pretty amazing statistic to me,” Braun said. “We’ve known there was a correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline, but there were a lot of unknowns regarding the exact nature of that correlation as well as whether hearing aids or other treatments could have a positive impact.”
The connection between hearing loss and dementia is well-documented, but the “why” is still up for research inquiry, Braun said. Regardless, the finding adds to the growing list of reasons for adults to check their hearing sooner rather than later.
Long-term speech understanding can improve the earlier a patient uses hearing aids, Braun said.
“Cognitive health is something that people really care about,” Braun said. “I think this is going to cause more people to be more concerned about a mild or moderate hearing loss.”
For at-risk adults and anyone interested in checking their hearing, Braun recommends a visit to an audiologist.
The Audiology and Speech Language Pathology Clinic at 2001 S. Oak Street in Champaign is open to all patients, regardless of affiliation to the University of Illinois and accepts some insurance plans. It is operated by the College of Applied Health Sciences’ Department of Speech and Hearing Science.