Hearing aids might slow cognitive decline, research shows

Photo credit: Diva Plavalaguna

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to a report in The Hearing Review, hearing aids slow cognitive decline in adults with mild cognitive impairment. The report is based on a presentation by UCLA researchers at the annual meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging. Undergraduate student Natalie Quilala is the lead author. The research showed that providing hearing aids to patients diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment altered brain metabolism, as measured using nuclear medicine brain imaging techniques. Providing hearing aids prevented metabolic changes in important frontal regions of the brain.

It has been known for some years that there is a correlation between hearing loss and dementia in older people, with worse hearing correlated with worse dementia. The unanswered question is whether hearing aid use by older people with hearing loss can delay the onset or prevent the development of dementia. These findings fit with other reports indicating that providing hearing aids to older adults with hearing loss may delay or even prevent the onset of dementia. The findings also provide preliminary information about how hearing aids might do this.

Hearing aids aren’t like reading glasses, used to correct presbyopia. They are expensive, people don’t like wearing them and they don’t work as well as users would like in noisy environments. Fortunately, hearing loss is not part of normal aging but largely represents the effects of cumulative lifetime noise exposure.

Noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable. Avoid noise exposure, leave the noisy environment, or use hearing protection and your ears should last a lifetime. If it sounds loud, it’s too loud and your auditory health is at risk.

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