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Do Hearing Aids Slow Down Cognitive Decline?

By: Dr Cliff Olson
March 16, 2019
Video Transcript

A little while back I made a video talking about research from the Lancet Commission.  Their research indicated that hearing loss in mid-life resulted in a 9% increased risk of dementia later in life.  It was the single biggest potentially modifiable risk factor for dementia.  

However, recent new evidence from the Sense-Cog Project revealed that hearing aid may slow down cognitive decline in individuals with hearing loss.  In their recent article titled "Longitudinal relationship between hearing aid use and cognitive function in Older Americans”, they found that “Hearing Aid use was positively associated with episodic memory scores.  

Decline in episodic memory scores was slower after [using hearing aids] than before using hearing aids."Their study was different because they followed a large group of over 2,000 individuals over 18 years and examined their rate of cognitive decline before hearing aid treatment and after hearing aid treatment.  The rate of cognitive decline slowed down after treatment in these individuals.  There are two suspected reasons for the reduction in cognitive decline in these individuals:

1. The Cascade Hypothesis - This suggests that other effects of hearing aid treatment such as decreased depression, increased social engagement, and increased physical activity could all slow down the rate of cognitive decline.

2. The Neurobiological impact - This suggests that hearing aids may reduce the negative impact of Sensory Deprivation on Brain Function.  Ultimately, the researchers concluded that "Hearing aids may have a mitigating effect on trajectories of cognitive decline in later life.

Providing hearing aids or other rehabilitative services for hearing impairment much earlier in the course of hearing impairment may stem the worldwide rise of dementia."Now there will always be critics out there that simply blame age as the main factor in the cause of cognitive decline.

In fact, this used to me my stance on hearing aids and cognitive decline.  After all, Age, Hearing Loss, and Dementia are all related.  

However, in light of all the recent evidence that suggests hearing loss's impact on cognitive abilities, it makes it very hard to just say that cognitive decline and dementia are due to age alone. So, if you or someone you know has hearing loss, not only will hearing aids help you communicate better, they may also reduce your risk of dementia down the road, keeping you mentally fit for years to come.

Dr Cliff's Thoughts

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