Researchers have long linked hearing loss in older adults with an increased risk for dementia but a new study led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has also found the likelihood of developing dementia was lower among hearing aid users compared with non-users. Hearing loss has been found in prior research as a possible contributing factor in dementia risk over time. Treating hearing loss may be one modifiable means of preventing cognitive decline and dementia in older age.
The new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, used findings from a sample of more than 2,400 older adults. The results support public health action to improve access to hearing care among seniors. Hearing loss affects about two-thirds of Americans over 70.
The new research demonstrates that among study participants with moderate to severe hearing loss, the prevalence of dementia was 61 percent higher than among participants with normal hearing. Those who used a hearing aid had a 32 percent lower prevalence of dementia in the group of participants with moderate to severe hearing loss.
Untreated hearing loss can make it difficult for older adults to follow conversations and stay socially connected with others. Because it is often quite difficult for people who are hard of hearing to single out a speaker in a noisy room, many withdraw from group social interaction, leading to isolation and depression. Poor hearing may also increase cognitive strain, as the brain tries to fill in the gaps hearing loss leaves. Less auditory stimulation may also lead to atrophy in regions of the brain associated with memory.
The good news is that hearing aids have come a long way, both in function and appearance. New models not only help dampen background noise – they are also much less noticeable. The deregulation of over-the-counter hearing aids in the United States has made them far more affordable in recent years. Getting properly fitted or learning how to properly manage self-fitting hearing aids is essential to finding an aid that works well, and will be worn. It takes time to get used to wearing a hearing aid and fitting it correctly. Expect to require about a month of regular use to become accustomed to wearing a new hearing aid comfortably.
In the US, complete an online hearing assessment using your headphones at Best Buy by following this link.