Hearing aids could help improve brain function in later life

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Researchers say the devices can reduce the risk of dementia

A new study has revealed that wearing a hearing aid to combat age-related hearing loss could help consumers improve their brain function over the long term. 

“Previous research has shown that hearing loss is linked to a loss of brain function, memory, and an increased risk of dementia,” said researcher Dr. Anne Corbett. 

“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.” 

Improving brain function

To see how hearing aids could improve consumers’ brain function into old age, researchers from the University of Exeter and King’s College London utilized the PROTECT online database, gathering data from 25,000 people over the age of 50. 

Half of the group wore hearing aids to help with hearing loss associated with older age, while the second half of the group went without a hearing aid. The researchers had each group complete annual tests assessing their cognition for two years. The participants were tested on their ability to focus, their reaction times, and their memory, all of which could translate into regular daily activities. 

The study revealed that participants wearing hearing aids outperformed those who didn’t wear the hearing aids on nearly every measure of the tests. This was positive news to the researchers, as they had tangible evidence that something as simple as a hearing aid could not only benefit older adults’ daily lives, but also improve their overall brain function later in life.

“We know that we could reduce the dementia risk by a third if we all took action from mid life,” said researcher Clive Ballard. “This research is part of an essential body of work to find out what really works to keep our brains healthy. This is an early finding and needs more investigation, yet it has exciting potential. The message here is that if you’re advised you need a hearing aid, find one that works for you. At the very least it will improve your hearing and it could help keep your brain sharp too.” 

Potential health risks

Recent studies have explored just how dangerous hearing loss can be to consumers’ overall health. 

Similar to this most recent study, researchers from the University of California - San Diego found that hearing loss in old age is often a sign of cognitive decline, though higher education can help mild hearing loss. 

Moreover, researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that hearing loss could be associated with premature death

“Old age greatly increases the risk for hearing loss,” said Dr. Vegard Skirbekk. “Therefore, as the population ages, we are seeing increasing numbers of people with hearing loss. At the same time, there are greater numbers of adults living without a partner -- putting people with hearing loss at an increased risk for death.”

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