Can Hearing Aids Prevent Memory Loss Down the Road?
Celebrating 35 years of Caring for Your Hearing
|Meredy Hase tests a child, 1987||Kupperman and Hase work to license audiologists in Wisconsin, 1989|
Hearing Loss UNDER Age 65
We used to think of hearing loss as something that only happened to our grandparents' generation. But you'd be surprised at how many people your age, and even younger, have a hearing problem.
According to a study recently published by the Better Hearing Institute, two-thirds of Americans with hearing loss are under the age of 65 and still in the work force. That includes one of every six "Baby Boomers" (ages 41 to 59) and one of every 14 "Generation X'ers" (age 29-40).
According to Meredy Hase, Doctor of Audiology, "Hearing loss is by no means an 'old person's disease' any longer. Each day, we see people of all ages come into our offices concerned they may have a hearing problem.
"There's even solid evidence to support the fact that for working Americans, hearing loss impacts their ability to make a living, up to $12,000 in lost income per year." (See related article)
Dr. Hase urges anyone who thinks they, or a loved one, may have a hearing loss to contact The Doctors of Audiology at Hearing Services without delay.
Auditory Deprivation refers to the fact that even though we "hear" with our ears, it's our brain that's the true organ of hearing.
When hearing loss is left untreated, the brain's ability to distinguish various sounds becomes less and less. Try to think of Auditory Deprivation as similar, in a sense, to muscles that atrophy when not used over a long period of time.
The reason Auditory Deprivation is important is that we have ample evidence proving how long people will wait before seeking help for a suspected hearing loss. Up to ten years, by some estimates.
In other words, the longer you wait to get help for your hearing loss, the less even the most advanced hearing instruments will be able to help you hear better. That's one more reason physicians recommend annual hearing checks as part of an overall health assessment.
The Doctors of Audiology at Hearing Services can perform hearing screenings that take only a few minutes. Concerned individuals are urged to contact them at the first signs of hearing loss, such as an inability to understand conversations in a crowded room or having to turn up the TV volume in order to hear.
Hearing & Income Loss
After years of research, there is new evidence that links hearing loss and loss of income. A study released by the Better Hearing Institute in Alexandria, VA, proves that untreated hearing loss may impact household income by as much as $12,000 per year.
The study also shows that hearing loss, which affects more than 28 million Americans, two thirds of whom are still in the work force, results in an annual loss of more than $100 billion in wages and worker productivity. The good news is people who find help for their hearing loss can regain up to 50% of that lost income.
According to Meredy Hase, Doctor of Audiology, "One of the misconceptions about hearing loss is that it's 'an old person's ailment'. But we know that hearing loss crosses all income lines and impacts people of all ages".
The new "Open Ear" Digital hearing instruments are especially designed to help Baby Boomers feel more comfortable about wearing hearing instruments.
Anyone interested in receiving a FREE Demonstration of Open Fit hearing technology are urged to contact the Doctors of Audiology at Hearing Services.
Hearing Loss & the Family
For years, both researchers and hearing healthcare professionals have known much about the causes of hearing loss and how it affects the person who suffers from it.
But not until recently has attention been paid as to the devastating effects hearing loss has on family members and friends as well. This past year alone, several organizations have weighed in with their findings on this often overlooked medical problem that by current estimates, affects the lives and families of more than 30 million Americans.
For example, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), a government agency whose task it is to research the lives of older Americans, released a study that confirms how often a person with hearing loss begins to feel isolated, eventually withdrawing from normal everyday activities and even from family and friends.
None of this is news, however, to Dr. Meredy Hase, who says, "I realized just how much hearing loss also affected family members when we''d spend so much time counseling them when we''d fit their loved one with hearing instruments".
The benefits of better hearing were the subject of an NBC report that aired on an installment of the NBC Nightly News. In that report, the testimonials of several patients and their families provided evidence of how lives can be changed for the good, once the decision has been made to seek help for a hearing problem.
Those interviewed talked about how experiences such as watching TV or enjoying conversations with loved ones - things that were not possible with hearing loss - were once again part of the everyday enjoyment of life. Social activities like dining at restaurants of going to the movies were also among the range of family life experienced through better hearing.
Thanks to recent advances in technology more help is available than ever before for those whose lives are affected by hearing loss. If left untreated, hearing loss will almost always become worse over time, another reason Dr. Hase urges people to contact the Doctors of Audiology at Hearing Services if a hearing loss is thought to exist.
More Hearing Healthcare News
For people with hearing loss, using a hearing aid is associated with a reduced risk of three common health problems of aging—dementia, depression, and falls—according to a new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
This study adds to the growing body of research that links hearing loss to memory issues and dementia. “Cognitive decline is much higher among people with hearing loss,” says study author Elham Mahmoudi, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Michigan.
The new study also suggests using hearing aids might help delay the onset of dementia in some people, and it's the largest study to date to look at this possible connection, according to Mahmoudi.
Here, what this and other research has shown about hearing loss and the brain, and what it all means for you.
The Hearing Aids-Dementia Connection
The new study found that people who received hearing aids in the three years after being diagnosed with hearing loss had lower rates of dementia, depression, and falls than those who didn’t get the devices.
To get these findings, University of Michigan researchers examined managed care insurance claims from 114,862 adults with hearing loss between 2008 and 2016. All were age 66 or older.
The researchers looked at the study subjects’ insurance claims for three years after their hearing loss diagnosis. They did this to determine which people with hearing loss had been prescribed a hearing aid, which had not, and which study subjects in both groups were later diagnosed with dementia, depression, or a fall-related injury. Then they compared the difference between the hearing aid group and the non-hearing aid group.
What Earlier Studies Have Found
A lot of prior research has found that hearing loss is connected with an increased risk of memory problems.
In a 2018 analysis published in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, researchers pooled the results of 36 studies and found that age-related hearing loss was linked to an increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline and impairment.
(Other previous research has also linked hearing loss to depression and falling.)
Fewer studies have been conducted on whether the use of a hearing aid might delay or prevent the onset of dementia, says Jennifer Deal, Ph.D., an assistant scientist in the department of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who wasn’t involved in the new study.
But like the new research, several small studies that have addressed the question in recent years have found that the use of hearing aids is linked with a lower risk of dementia.
How Hearing Loss Might Affect the Brain
Scientists don't have definitive answers about the effects of hearing loss on brain health. One theory, according to Deal, is that when your hearing is damaged, the brain must expend more effort to decode the sound signals it takes in, possibly at the expense of other brain functions.
Another hypothesis is that hearing loss changes the physical structure of the brain in a way that could harm memory—and some evidence from brain imaging studies supports this theory.
Hearing loss can also increase a person’s feeling of social isolation because the condition makes it harder to communicate. And social isolation is linked to a number of health problems, from heart disease to Alzheimer’s disease.
Could Hearing Loss Cause Dementia?
Neither prior studies nor the new one offer firm proof that hearing loss is a cause of dementia. In fact, it’s not clear yet what actually causes Alzheimer’s disease or some other types of dementia.
The new study was observational—meaning it looked only at data on existing health outcomes, rather than testing the effects of a hearing aid. So, while it found a pattern, it couldn't establish that hearing problems actually cause dementia.
And, say researchers, a number of other factors could have influenced the outcome of the study. For instance, the researchers weren’t able to factor in socioeconomic status in their analysis. That's important because people with more education and economic resources have been found to be less likely to experience cognitive decline as they age.
For scientists to be able to say definitively that hearing loss is a cause of dementia, a randomized controlled trial is needed, comparing similar groups of people, some of whom have their hearing loss treated with a hearing aid, and some who don’t.
Deal and her research team are currently conducting one such trial, so she hopes to be able to answer this question within a few years.
The Upside of Hearing Aids
While the new study found that for people with hearing loss, using hearing aids was associated with a lower risk of dementia, that doesn't mean aids can prevent dementia or even reduce risks.
It’s just too early to say, without the results of a randomized controlled trial.
Still, the upside of using these devices for hearing loss can be substantial. “If someone is considering a hearing aid, we do know that it should help improve the quality of life, help with communication,” Deal says. “We do know there are benefits, we just don’t know if cognition is one of them.”
Article originally appeared on Consumer Reports.