Page 3 - Senior Times South Central Michigan - May 2019- 26-05
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Senior Times - May 2019 Page 3
Submitted by Battle Creek Hearing
Recent studies suggest that wearing hearing aids could slow or actually reverse cognitive decline in elderly people.
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 are finding increasing evidence of a
link between hearing loss and declines in thinking and memory. In recent years, studies have linked hearing loss to other health problems as well, including falls, depression, and increased financial burden. Health-care costs for those with hearing loss are 46% higher over a decade than for those without hearing loss, in part due to repeat hos- pitalizations, according to a study published in JAMA Otolaryngology.
of the hearing-aid-users showed improvement in working memory and neural speech processing, and a greater ease of listening.
Could wearing a hearing aid help stave off cognitive decline? A growing body of research suggests the answer is “yes.”
Demographic factors can play a role, too. People who wear a hearing aid generally are more affluent and have healthier lifestyles than those who don’t wear an aid. These factors may also protect against cognitive decline. The Maryland study was small and short. And some funding came from a Denmark-based hearing-aid com- pany, Widex, which provided the devices at cost. Such help is necessary because the funding avail- able for hearing research has been very limited.
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.”
Since that study, research on whether correct- ing hearing loss can slow cognitive decline has increased. Jennifer Deal, an epidemiologist at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a leader in research about cognitive aging, says she and many colleagues have become more optimistic that through efforts to prevent hearing loss, “We may be able to prevent or delay cogni- tive decline and dementia.”
A deeper investigation is in the works. Dr. Deal of Johns Hopkins is working with Mr. Reed and other colleagues on a trial with 850 participants that aims to definitively answer the question of whether treating hearing loss will delay cognitive decline. It will conclude in 2022.
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, confusion, and anxiety.
Piers Dawes, co-author of a University of Manchester study published last year, found evidence that hearing aids may have beneficial effects on cognitive health says, “This underlines just how important it is to overcome the barriers which deny people from accessing hearing and visual aids.” The results, published last April in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. found that the rate of cognitive decline slowed after participants started wearing hearing aids.
Experts hope that the stigma associated with wearing hearing aids will fade, with baby boomers turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day. Meanwhile, the importance of hearing is only beginning to be appreciated, scientists say, “When you ask people, ‘What do you fear most about aging?’ they all say, ‘Loss of cognitive function and loneliness.’” Dr. Anderson says, “No one ever says, ‘hearing loss’ even through those things are all connected.”
A study published in 2017 in the Lancet found
A University of Maryland study, published last spring in two journals, Clinical Neurophysiology and Neuropsychologia, found that hearing aids can boost brain function. After six months, 83%
The above material was adapted from an article by Bonnie Miller Rubin and submitted for publishing by Battle Creek Hearing. For more information call (269) 979-6455.
a link between hearing loss and dementia and list- ed managing hearing loss as one of nine “poten- tially modifiable health and lifestyle factors” that might help prevent dementia.
Any shortcomings aside, some scientists not connected with the studies say they show this area of inquiry is promising. “It’s exactly the research we need,” says Nicholas S. Reed, an assistant professor of audiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an author of the JAMA Otolaryngology study on health costs and hearing loss. Next, he says, “We need larger randomized control trials over three to five years that will tell us more.”
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