Improving older adults’ hearing helps their cognitive functioning

Photo credit: Sofia Shultz

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I have written about the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive impairment before and reported on evidence that strongly suggests that improving hearing for older people may delay or prevent the onset of dementia. While many still consider dementia to be an inevitable consequence of aging, research shows that up to 40% of cases of dementia have potentially treatable or preventable causes. Of these, hearing loss is the single largest treatable cause.

The evidence keeps mounting that treating hearing loss does indeed prevent dementia. The latest report is in JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery. Insertion of cochlear implants in older adults at risk for mild cognitive impairment improved their cognitive function. What differentiates this report from previous studies is a focus on patients who already had evidence of cognitive impairment.

The only treatments for hearing loss are amplification, i.e., hearing aids, and cochlear implantation, which is reserved for patients who are profoundly hearing impaired. Neither treatment restores normal hearing.

As I have written before, unlike thinning, graying hair, hearing loss is not part of normal physiological aging. It largely represents noise-induced hearing loss, the only type of hearing loss that is entirely preventable.

Avoid loud noise, leave the noisy environment, or use hearing protection to preserve your auditory health, and you can hear for an entire lifetime.

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