There have been studies over the last several years that have implicated hearing loss being associated with accelerated cognitive decline and possibly also with the onset of dementia in older adults. There was nothing stated about a direct cause and effect relationship. There is now a new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society who looked at a group of people over a 25 year span comparing cognitive decline among older adults who were using hearing aids and those who were not. The study found no difference in the rate of cognitive decline between people with no reported hearing loss and people with hearing loss who used hearing aids.
This makes sense to me. We are always hearing how we should exercise our brains by doing crossword puzzles and memory games (to name a few). How is this helping our brains? By stimulating those areas of the brain associated with those tasks. Well, the same holds true for auditory stimulation. If your brain is not getting the sounds it needs to hear speech clearly, then it will start to forget the nuances of the sounds. Is it mouse or mouth? The good news is that by wearing hearing aids, the brain now hears those distinctions much more clearly, more accurately, more often and more consistently. Your brain will do a much better job of figuring out the correct words rather than a blind guess.
Another aspect of hearing loss plays into the dementia scenario and that is socialization. If you don’t hear well enough to have a conversation, chances are you start to withdraw from social situations. You may be afraid of responding incorrectly to what’s being said or not being able to follow any of the conversation to contribute at all. Lack of social interaction can also lead to cognitive decline.
What can we do? Obviously, wearing hearing aids that are fit appropriately to your hearing loss and your comfort level will stimulate your brain, increase social interaction and help reduce cognitive decline. Our job as audiologists is to help you achieve those goals.
Hope to see you soon.