Researchers examined data on 7,385 adults 50 and older without a diagnosis of dementia or other conditions tied to cognitive problems and without hearing implants or ear infections. Overall, about 41% had a mild hearing loss, 10% had a severe hearing loss, and 11% used a hearing aid.
While age-related hearing loss has been linked to cognitive decline. The study suggests hearing aids may help minimize the risk of problems like impaired memory or executive function. People in the study who used hearing aids, however, were very different from those who did not use these devices.
The study was published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
People with mild to moderate hearing loss did score lower on memory assessments than individuals with perfect hearing, the study found. But this was only true for people who did not use hearing aids.
Not correcting for hearing loss results in social isolation which in turn results in us not using many of our neural networks in the brain on a regular basis. This could possibly explain the cognitive decline.
Hearing aid users tend to have moderate to severe hearing loss rather than a just mild hearing loss. They also tend to be older, to live alone, and to have high blood pressure-all of the independent risk factors for cognitive decline.
About one in three adults ages 65 to 74 have hearing loss, and almost half of people older than 75 have trouble hearing, according to the US National Institutes of Health. Age-related hearing loss can lead to a wide variety of health problems, as it touches on many aspects of daily life, making it harder for people to keep up with conversations, maintain a normal social life, and follow a doctor's advice about medical problems.
Previous studies have indicated that age-related hearing loss may be a risk factor for dementia. However, results from individual studies have been inconsistent, possibly due to differences in methods such as the type of hearing assessment used.
Hearing Loss In Aged People
It's also not clear how age-related hearing loss and cognitive decline are related, and the study was not controlled to this question. Results from the study in the UK, where hearing aids may be covered by the National Health Service, may differ from what would happen in the US and other countries where many people may need to pay out of pocket for hearing aids.
Age-related hearing loss may represent a modifiable condition and a possible target for secondary prevention of cognitive impairment in older age, social isolation, late-life depression, and frailty.