It should come as no surprise that hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline, as both conditions are linked to old age. However, research has suggested that hearing loss remains a risk factor for cognitive decline, even when common underlying causes are accounted for.
Hearing loss can lead to feelings of isolation and reluctance to socialise, and lack of social contact is a well established risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. It is also possible that constant straining to hear and understand speech results in increased ”cognitive load”, drawing resources away from other brain functions.
Now, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine has reported that hearing aids can improve cognitive function in 62-82 year-olds with hearing loss. Of nearly 100 participants, 97.3% showed either improvement or stability in cognitive tests after 18 months. While not the first to suggest the benefits of hearing aids, this study is the most comprehensive investigation to date.
Although there are successful treatments for hearing loss, there is currently no successful treatment for cognitive decline or dementia. This research is a positive step in investigating the treatment of hearing aids to delay cognitive decline.Griffin, K., & Bouton, K. (2020). Hearing Loss Linked to Memory Loss, Dementia. Retrieved 27 February 2020, from https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-07-2013/hearing-loss-linked-to-dementia.html
While the findings are encouraging, the study was not a randomised controlled trial, as it would be unethical to deny treatment to those with severe hearing loss. This, alongside the limited sample size, weakens the strength of the results.
Further research is underway to compare cognitive outcomes from a larger sample size with those of a healthy aging comparison group of older Australians with typical hearing for their age.Griffin, K., & Bouton, K. (2020). Hearing Loss Linked to Memory Loss, Dementia. Retrieved 27 February 2020, from https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-07-2013/hearing-loss-linked-to-dementia.html
The Effect of Hearing Aid Use on Cognition in Older Adults: Can We Delay Decline or Even Improve Cognitive Function?: https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm9010254
Hearing aids may delay cognitive decline, research finds: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-02/uom-ham022620.php
Hearing Loss Linked to Dementia: https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-07-2013/hearing-loss-linked-to-dementia.html