Use of Hearing Aids Lessens Cognitive Decline Among Older Adults who Report Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition affecting older adults—some 30% of people aged 65 or older have some degree of hearing loss, and some estimates suggest that as many as 70–90% of people 85-years-old or older have some degree of loss. Hearing loss can lead to symptoms of depression and isolation, and research suggests that older adults with hearing loss can also have cognitive performance problems. In fact, in one study of a group of people aged 70 to 79, hearing loss was linked to faster cognitive decline and impairment independent of any other symptoms.
In their new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers from the University of Bordeaux in France examined whether or not using hearing aids impacts cognitive decline in older adults who have hearing loss.
The researchers collected data from a study began in 1989 and included 3,670 people 65-years-old and older. At the start of the study, participants were asked whether or not they experienced hearing loss. Overall, of the participants:
- 4% reported having major hearing loss,
- 31% reported having moderate problems (such as, difficulty hearing conversations when several people are talking or in noisy backgrounds), and
- 65% said they had no hearing problems.
Among the 1,276 older adults with hearing problems, 150 people used hearing aids. During follow-up visits every two or three years throughout the 25-year study, researchers gave participants the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE), a test that measures a person’s state of cognitive impairment.
Regardless of age, people who had hearing loss had lower MMSE scores at the start of the study and a slightly greater decline in their scores 25 years later compared to those who didn’t have hearing trouble. However, people who used hearing aids over the course of the study experienced less cognitive decline and scored about the same, cognitively, as did people who had no hearing problems.
The researchers noted that hearing aids—by partially restoring an older adult’s ability to communicate—could improve mood and social interactions and could potentially slow cognitive decline.