COULD HEARING AIDS HELP DELAY OR PREVENT MENTAL DECLINE AS YOU AGE?
By Stephanie Nance, Au.D., CCC-A, of HearingLife Greensboro
If you have hearing loss, wearing your hearing aids should be at the top of your to-do list – and not just because they can help you hear better. A new study published online Sept. 4, 2019, by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests hearing aid use may also play a role in staving off dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety and falls with injuries.
Previous research has found links between hearing loss and a number of age-related health conditions, including cognitive decline, depression, dementia and increased risk for falls.
Elham Mahmoudi, Ph.D., and a team of fellow researchers at the University of Michigan set out to determine if hearing aid use made a difference in the rate that dementia and other conditions were diagnosed in people with hearing loss. The researchers examined the medical histories of nearly 115,000 people from across the U.S. who were 66 or older, had been diagnosed with hearing loss, and were enrolled in the types of Medicare plans that typically cover part of the costs of hearing aids, making these individuals more likely than others to have aids.
In their study, the researchers included only people who had a new hearing loss diagnosis and had not been diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression or anxiety and had not experienced a fall-related injury within the past year. Using records from an insurance claims database, they were able to follow the study participants’ medical care over the three years following their hearing loss diagnosis.
The researchers found that the people in the study who wore aids had an 18% lower risk of being diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, a 13% lower risk of fall-related injuries and an 11% lower risk of being diagnosed with depression or anxiety over that three-year period, compared to those who did not use aids.
“Use of [hearing aids] among adults with [hearing loss] was associated with delay or prevention of three common and important age-related conditions: [Alzheimer’s disease] or dementia, depression or anxiety, and fall-related injuries,” the researchers concluded in their paper (accessible online at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jgs.16109). “Timely diagnosis of [hearing loss] and early use of [hearing aids] may delay the diagnosis of cognitive decline and reduce the risk of injurious falls.
The researchers noted that while their study showed an association between use of hearing aids and “reduced risk of physical and mental decline, randomized trials are needed to determine whether, and to what extent, the relationship is causal.”
As we have previously shared in this space, a large national study, ACHIEVE, is now underway with the goal of answering that question. In this study, which is funded by the National Institute on Aging, patients with hearing loss have been randomly divided into two groups. One group wears hearing aids and takes part in sessions about hearing health. The other participates in educational sessions on healthy aging but does not wear hearing aids. Throughout the three-year study, patients in the two study groups are being interviewed and tested periodically to assess changes in their thinking, memory and physical functioning.
Although research is continuing, the findings so far are compelling. If you think you have hearing loss, get tested. And if your test shows a hearing loss, take the next important step: Get hearing aids, and wear them. Not only will your aids help you communicate with friends and family, but they also may aid you in delaying or preventing age-related cognitive decline.
Stephanie Nance, Au.D., CCC-A, is an audiologist at HearingLife Greensboro. She is a doctor of audiology, with extensive experience in evaluating hearing loss and fitting patients with hearing aids and other technology to help them maximize their hearing ability.
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