Researchers have long been interested in a possible connection between hearing loss and age-related cognitive decline. Could treating hearing loss be an effective measure for reducing someone’s risk of dementia or other cognition changes? And more specifically, could the use of hearing aids slow or prevent cognitive decline in people with hearing loss?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), previous research studies have revealed that:
- There IS a connection between hearing loss in older adults and the occurrence of dementia.
- There are promising signs that hearing loss treatment could impact the development of age-related cognition issues.
However, more research needed to be done on the subject to further clarify the connection between hearing loss treatment and cognition. To help find more substantive answers, the NIH funded a large, randomized study, the results of which were released on July 17, 2023. Let’s take a look at what the study entailed along with the information gleaned from this important research.
Hearing Aids and Cognitive Decline: A Research Study Funded by NIH
Hearing Aids and Cognitive Decline: Study Details
The NIH study was aimed at comparing cognitive decline in older adults who wore hearing aids vs. their peers who did not.
Here are some details about the study’s parameters and its participants:
- How many people were studied? Approximately 1,000 older adults were included. Each participant had previously been diagnosed with substantial hearing loss.
- How old were the participants? Ages ranged from 70 to 84.
- Where did the participants come from? Approximately 250 people came from a long-term heart health study at four different sites throughout the U.S. The rest of the participants came from the general communities surrounding those four sites.
- What happened to participants during the study? Participants were randomly given one of two interventions. Half of them received hearing aids and were taught how to use them. The other half were part of a health education program with tips being given for healthy aging.
- How long was the study and what was measured? Researchers measured the rate of cognitive decline in participants over a three year period.
Hearing Aids and Cognitive Decline: Study Results
Before the study began, each participant took a variety of tests to measure cognitive function. Those tests were repeated annually during the study to measure changes in cognition, if any.
Here’s what the researchers discovered:
- The group that received hearing aids showed an improvement in communication abilities throughout the study.
- The participants that were part of the health education program did not show any hearing or communication improvement throughout the 3-year study.
But was there any indication that hearing aids and cognitive decline were connected? Surprisingly, the data looking at the entire participant population showed NO significant change in cognitive decline in those with hearing aids versus those who didn’t have them.
However, the researchers took the data analysis one step further. Instead of looking at the entire participant population, they zeroed in on just the group that came from the long-term heart health study. These participants already had higher risk factors for dementia and cognitive decline than those who came from the general community.
Among the heart health study participants, there WAS a significant difference between those who received hearing aids and those who didn’t. In fact, the ones who wore hearing aids showed an approximately 50% reduced rate of cognitive decline when compared to the heart health study participants who were placed in the health education group.
The conclusion: Researchers will continue to evaluate this study population to measure additional cognitive changes over time. For now, though, there is promising evidence that hearing aids could help slow cognitive decline in individuals who already have a higher risk for dementia or other cognitive-related conditions.
Professional Hearing Loss Treatment in Mesa and Scottsdale, AZ
As the connection between hearing aids and cognitive decline continues to be researched, one thing remains clear … There is NO downside to hearing loss treatment! In fact, the earlier hearing loss is recognized and diagnosed, the more effective treatment often is.
If you suspect hearing loss in yourself or a loved one, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with our Mesa or Scottsdale audiologists today. A hearing test and thorough hearing evaluation will determine the presence of hearing loss along with its type and severity. And if NO hearing changes are present, we can teach you some ways to prevent hearing loss so you can enjoy healthy hearing for as long as possible!
Read more about the NIH study here.