Troubles with thinking, remembering, reasoning—this is what is referred to as subjective cognitive decline, which has been associated through study after study in patients with signs of hearing loss. The more severe the hearing loss, the greater the risk.
A recent study published 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. When individuals receive better auditory input through using hearing aids it delays cognitive decline. When people can hear better, they have greater social engagement and higher self-efficacy and lower levels of depression symptoms, which all support better cognitive health.
What this all means for your hearing health, is—while hearing aids do not prevent cognitive decline, mounting evidence suggests that they can slow it down. Meanwhile, individuals 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.
All said, even in the earliest stages of hearing loss, hearing aids are an excellent strategy to combat cognitive decline, especially when fitted by an expert audiologist.
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.