Cognitive functioning improves after cochlear implant in older adults

Photo credit: Yahoo Accessibility Lab licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

MedPage Today reports on an important new paper in JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery showing that cognitive function improved after cochlear implant. The study involved only a small number of subjects, and must be confirmed by larger studies done with a randomized controlled trial study design, but it is important for a number of reasons.

Cochlear implants are basically hearing aids that deliver electrical impulses of sound directly to the cochlear nerve cells, rather than merely amplifying sound waves to deliver higher amplitude sound waves to damaged or dead cochlear hair cells. Cochlear implants have been used for years in children born with congenital deafness, but less often in adults. Medicare recently expanded coverage of cochlear implants for beneficiaries who meet certain criteria.

The new study provides additional support for the hypothesis that hearing loss contributes to cognitive decline. Dr. Frank Lin and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University reported on an association between hearing loss and dementia a decade ago, finding that worse hearing loss was associated with greater likelihood of dementia. Research is being done to see if providing hearing aids to older people with hearing loss reduces or delays the onset of dementia.

But hearing aids don’t help those with profound hearing loss as much as those with only moderate hearing loss. The new study shows that cochlear implants don’t just help older people with profound hearing loss hear better, but also helps to improve cognitive function.

We are glad that cochlear implants appear to improve cognitive function in those with profound hearing loss, but want to emphasize that it’s much better not to need them.

Prevention of noise-induced hearing loss is easy and inexpensive: avoid exposure to loud noise.

If it sounds loud, it’s too loud, and your auditory health is at risk. Turn down the volume, leave the noisy environment, or use hearing protection.

Then your ears can last you your entire life.


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