Summary: 93% of study participants showed improvement in cognitive and executive function after using a hearing aid.
Source: University of Melbourne
Wearing hearing aids may delay cognitive decline in older adults and improve brain function, according to promising new research.
Cognitive decline is associated with hearing loss, which affects about 32 percent of people aged 55 years, and more than 70 percent of people aged over 70 years. Hearing loss has been identified as a modifiable risk factor for dementia.
University of Melbourne researchers have tested the use of hearing aids in almost 100 adults aged 62-82 years with hearing loss.
Participants were assessed before and 18 months after having hearing aids fitted on their hearing, cognitive function, speech perception, quality of life, physical activity, loneliness, mood and medical health.
After 18 months of hearing aid use, researchers found speech perception, self-reported listening disability and quality of life had significantly improved for participants.
Most notably, 97.3 percent of participants in this study showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function – their mental ability to plan, organise information and initiate tasks.
Women, in particular, showed significant improvements in working memory – used for reasoning and decision-making – as well as most other cognitive functions assessed.
The study also found more frequent use of hearing aids was associated with greater improvements in cognitive function, and women were much more diligent at wearing the devices than men.
University of Melbourne Associate Professor and Chief Investigator of the study, Julia Sarant, said improvement in cognitive function is something that is not usually seen in older adults.
“Although there are successful treatments for hearing loss, there is currently no successful treatment for cognitive decline or dementia,” Associate Professor Sarant said.
“This research is a positive step in investigating the treatment of hearing aids to delay cognitive decline.
“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.”
Funding: This research was funded by Swiss hearing care company, Sonova AG. Two of the paper authors, Ulrike Lemke and Stefan Launer are affiliated with Sonova AG as employees. Participants were recruited from the University of Melbourne Academic Hearing Aids Audiology Clinic and many were highly educated, prompting the need for further research with a larger sample size that’s more representative of the general population. Participants were people who had been assessed as needing hearing aids and had decided to trial using them for the first time. Participants were fitted with the hearing aid of their choosing; they didn’t have to be Sonova branded (though some did choose their products).
About this neuroscience research article
Source: University of Melbourne Media Contacts: Holly Watkins – University of Melbourne Image Source: The image is in the public domain.
The Effect of Hearing Aid Use on Cognition in Older Adults: Can We Delay Decline or Even Improve Cognitive Function?
Hearing loss is a modifiable risk factor for dementia in older adults. Whether hearing aid use can delay the onset of cognitive decline is unknown. Participants in this study (aged 62–82 years) were assessed before and 18 months after hearing aid fitting on hearing, cognitive function, speech perception, quality of life, physical activity, loneliness, isolation, mood, and medical health. At baseline, multiple linear regression showed hearing loss and age predicted significantly poorer executive function performance, while tertiary education predicted significantly higher executive function and visual learning performance. At 18 months after hearing aid fitting, speech perception in quiet, self-reported listening disability and quality of life had significantly improved. Group mean scores across the cognitive test battery showed no significant decline, and executive function significantly improved. Reliable Change Index scores also showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function for 97.3% of participants, and for females for working memory, visual attention and visual learning. Relative stability and clinically and statistically significant improvement in cognition were seen in this participant group after 18 months of hearing aid use, suggesting that treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids may delay cognitive decline. Given the small sample size, further follow up is required.