Could wearing a hearing aid help stave off cognitive decline? A growing body of research suggests the answer is yes. Scientists are finding increasing evidence of a link between hearing loss and declines in thinking and memory.
Two studies published last year found that using hearing aids slowed or reversed cognitive decline in elderly participants, and a large trial is under way to learn more.
Hearing loss and its possible connection to more serious health problems is getting more attention after years of being dismissed as an inconvenience of age. Research funding has increased, in part due to the aging population.
Scientists say impaired hearing may increase the cognitive load on the brain, with more energy spent on processing sound and less on thinking and memory. The loss of environmental sound cues may change the brain in other ways, too. “Making sense of sound engages the brain’s cognitive, sensory, motor and reward systems,” says Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and the founder of Brainvolts, an auditory neuroscience lab at Northwestern. “If we do not hear well, it will compromise how we think, feel, move, and how we combine experience from our other senses.”
Hearing loss may also exacerbate cognitive decline because it can lead to social isolation and depression. It makes interactions more fatiguing and can lead to breakdowns in communication with caregivers, cause confusion and anxiety.
A study in the Lancet in 2017 found a link between hearing loss and dementia and listed managing hearing loss as one of nine “potentially modifiable health and lifestyle factors” that might help prevent dementia.
Periodic hearing evaluations remain important as your audiologist keeps up with the latest hearing aide technologies and support.