Can wearing hearing aids prevent dementia?

Photo credit: mike krzeszak licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Can wearing hearing aids prevent dementia? That’s a question that doctors have wondered about every since Dr. Frank Lin at Johns Hopkins University reported that hearing loss was associated with dementia in older people, with worse hearing loss being associated with worse dementia. Dr. Lin and others are doing studies to investigate whether providing patients with hearing loss will delay the onset of dementia or prevent it, but the studies will take years to complete.

In the meantime, a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore analyzed existing studies and reported in the current issue of JAMA Neurology that use of hearing aids by people with hearing loss may reduce or delay cognitive decline. The article, by Dr. Wei Shyang Loh and colleagues, reviewed 3243 published studies related to this topic. They found that people with hearing loss who wore hearing aids performed 3% better on cognitive scores in the short term. In the long term, hearing aid use was associated with a 19% reduction in cognitive decline.

As one of my professors used to say, “correlation is not causation.” Whether a statistical correlation indicates a causal relationship can only be elucidated by a randomized controlled trial, something proposed in an editorial in the same issue.

The senior author of the paper, Dr. Benjamin Tan, commented that, “[d]ementia is far easier to prevent than treat, and exceeding difficult to reverse.”

So in the meantime, if you think you have hearing loss, you should get your hearing tested and get hearing aids if you have moderate to severe hearing loss. The new over-the-counter hearing aids, now widely advertised on television, may allow you to do this less expensively than last year.

And if you don’t have hearing loss, be sure to protect your ears.

Turn down the volume, leave the noisy environment, or insert ear plugs.

Because if something sounds loud, it’s too loud, and your auditory health is at risk.

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