A new study published this year in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society further supports existing evidence that wearing hearing aids can help slow cognitive decline in elderly patients. There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to the relationship between hearing and cognition:
- The common cause hypothesis states that hearing loss and cognitive decline both involve age-related problems, such as tissue degeneration of the central nervous system.
- The cascade hypothesis theorizes that over time, untreated hearing loss results in inadequate brain stimulation, leading to cognitive decline.
The study referenced above involved 2040 hearing aid users who self-reported symptoms over 18 years. Results showed that while episodic memory did decline with age for most users, the rate of cognitive decline was slower for patients who used hearing devices. These results were adjusted by researches to account for overall health, socioeconomic status and other demographic characteristics.
The results of this study support the cascade hypothesis; researchers state that hearing aids provide individuals with improved auditory input, which delays cognitive decline “by preventing the adverse effects of auditory deprivation or facilitating lower levels of depression symptoms, greater social engagement and higher self-efficacy.”
The key takeaways of the study include the following:
- While hearing aids do not prevent cognitive decline, mounting evidence suggests that they can slow it down.
- Patients who wear hearing aids are less likely to be depressed and more likely to be socially engaged and self-confident in their communication abilities. Social engagement and physical activity help stave off cognitive decline and dementia.
- Hearing aids fitted by an expert audiologist should be recommended for patients even in the early stages of hearing loss.
Source: Maharani, A., Dawes, P. et al. (2018) Longitudinal relationship between hearing aid use and cognitive function in older Americans. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Published online April 26.