Science never sleeps, and so researchers always seem to be uncovering new information and new connections to help improve our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. That includes our hearing health.
In recent years, much as been discovered and learned about hearing, including how healthy hearing and hearing loss are connected to brain function in a most alarming way. Could something as simple as wearing a hearing aid help maintain brain function?
Science is finding the answer to that question may be a resounding “yes!”
Brain function is top of mind
Brain function and cognitive decline is a big concern for many these days. It can mean the difference between remaining independent as we age and paying high cost financially and emotionally by relying on family, friends or other caregivers in the future. Cognitive decline is a broad category that can include Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), dementia or even Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the World Health Organization and the CDC:
- Over 16 million people in the United States have cognitive impairment
- Worldwide, approximately 50 million people have dementia
- Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia
Could these numbers and the high cost of cognitive decline (Recent data estimates that in 2016 the cost of Alzheimer’s disease alone was over $268 million) be reduced in coming years with more focus on hearing health? Experts are hopeful that could be the case with the help of hearing aids.
Study points to hearing aids
In recent research out of the University of Exeter and King’s College London, the two year PROTECT online study of 25,000 people aged 50 or over found that wearing a hearing aid could help protect the brain and reduce the risk of dementia.
While some in the study wore hearing aids, and some did not, all study participants took annual cognitive tests. According to the findings, the group who wore hearing aids performed better in measures assessing working memory and aspects of attention than those who did not. On one attention measure, people who wore hearing aids also showed faster reaction times.
“Previous research has shown that hearing loss is linked to a loss of brain function, memory and an increased risk of dementia,” said PROTECT lead Dr Anne Corbett, from the University of Exeter. “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.”
This isn’t the first study to explore the connection between hearing aids and brain health. In a small short-term study where one group of individuals with hearing loss was instructed to wear hearing aids for a minimum of eight hours per day, findings showed that both hearing ability and working memory improved in the group using hearing aids while there were no changes in the group without hearing aids. Other studies include the SENSE-Cog Project and this recent study.
The connection between brain function and hearing health is hard to deny with more and more findings like these.
Start protecting your hearing health now
There are several steps you can take now to protect your hearing health and reduce your risk of cognitive decline, including:
- Hearing evaluations – schedule one now to determine where your hearing health is, and get regular assessments to identify changes to hearing and hearing loss early.
- Treat your hearing loss – if you are diagnosed with hearing loss, chances are hearing aids will be recommended. Work with a hearing health care professional to find the most effective devices for your needs. Wear them throughout the day to see the most benefit.
If you want to maintain your brain function, contact our office to schedule a hearing evaluation or begin discussing using hearing aids for your hearing loss.