If you are new to research on age-related hearing loss, it may come as a surprise that this type of hearing loss has been linked to several other health conditions. For example, age-related hearing loss has been connected to depression, anxiety, and a greater risk of falls.
For several years now, researchers and audiologists have known that age-related hearing loss is also linked to dementia. Multiple studies have demonstrated this connection. A new study has recently concluded, however, that hearing aids can help people with age-related hearing loss maintain better brain function over time.
This new research, conducted by a program called PROTECT at the University of Exeter and King’s College London, is one of the largest of its kind. The research is based on an online study of 25,000 people aged 50 or older. In this study, adults with age-related hearing loss were split into two groups. One group used hearing aids, while the other did not.
Over two years, both groups undertook annual cognitive tests. These tests worked to assess brain function, working memory, and aspects of attention. After those two years, the group that wore hearing aids performed better than the group that did not.
In one attention measure used in the study, people who wore hearing aids exhibited faster reaction times. In everyday life, this would relate to concentration, such as “listening intently to someone speaking,” “straining to hear a sound,” or “peering closely at an object of great interest.” This study shows that those who wear hearing aids would react faster and would be able to do so with a shorter period of concentrated attention.
One of the study leads, Dr. Anne Corbett of the University of Exeter, says, “Previous research has shown that hearing loss is linked to a loss of brain function, memory, and an increased risk of dementia. Our work is one of the largest studies to look at the impact of wearing a hearing aid and suggests that wearing a hearing aid could actually protect the brain. We now need more research and a clinical trial to test this and perhaps feed into policy to help keep people healthy in later life.”
Because this new research suggests that wearing a hearing aid can actually protect the brain and prevent or slow dementia, it is essential that people with age-related hearing loss are properly treated. If you believe you may be experiencing hearing loss, be sure to see an audiologist and follow their recommendation for treatment. Using a hearing aid could not only improve your hearing ability but also protect your brain function for years to come.
Professor Clive Ballard of the University of Exeter Medical School reiterates this need. He says, “We know that we could reduce dementia risk by a third if we all took action from mid-life. The message here is that if you’re advised you need a hearing aid, find one that works for you. At the very least it will improve your hearing and it could help keep your brain sharp too.”
Both Corbett and Ballard recognize the necessity of further research and clinical tests, but they feel their current research is promising. For more information about how using a hearing aid could protect your brain health and function, and schedule your appointment to test your hearing, we invite you to contact our audiologist practice today.