by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to a recent CNN article that comments on a new paper in The Lancet, treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids may cut dementia risk in half (the article is open access but one must register for a free account). The study was conducted by Frank Lin’s group at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and was done using a randomized controlled trial. 

Adults in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study and healthy volunteers — all between the age of 70 and 84 — were assigned either to a control group that received counseling about chronic disease prevention or an intervention group that received audiology evaluation and hearing aids, if necessary. Cognitive testing was done every six months for three years. There was no effect of the intervention overall, but when the data from older patients with hearing loss in the higher-risk ARIC group were analyzed, there was a 48% reduction in cognitive decline in the intervention group. The paper concluded that giving hearing aids to the higher risk population might reduce cognitive decline, but was not effective in those at lower risk of cognitive decline.

This is exciting news. Dementia is common in older adults, is difficult for patients and their families and is costly to treat. If dementia can be reduced or delayed by treating hearing loss with hearing aids, money can be saved in the long run. That success may encourage people to overcome the stigma of hearing loss and may eventually lead to Medicare covering hearing aids, at least in certain populations.

My focus, though, is on hearing loss prevention. Unlike thinning or graying hair, hearing loss is not part of normal aging, but is largely caused by noise exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noise-induced hearing loss is the only type of hearing loss that is entirely preventable.

Prevention of noise-induced hearing loss, and other noise-induced auditory disorders like tinnitus and hyperacusis, is simple and inexpensive. Avoid loud noise, leave the noisy environment or insert earplugs. Because if it sounds loud, it’s too loud, and your auditory health is at risk.

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