As we age, one of the declines that we may experience is hearing loss. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, nearly 32% of adults aged 55 years and 70% of those aged 70 years and older all across the U.S., including the Northbrook and Glenview area, suffer from hearing loss. “The general perception is that hearing loss is a relatively inconsequential part of aging,” says Frank Lin, an otologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. However, new research at the University of Melbourne has identified that cognitive decline can be associated with hearing loss.
The study included 100 adults aged 62-82 years old with hearing loss, all of whom were assessed on their cognitive function, speech perception, quality of life, physical activity, loneliness, mood and medical health. Each participant was then fitted for hearing aids and then reassessed after 18 months of use.
Researchers found that over 97 percent of participants in the study showed significant improvement in their mental ability to plan, organize information and initiate tasks. Reports also showed improvements in speech perception and quality of life. Women, specifically, showed positive change in working memory used for reasoning and decision-making.
To parallel these results, Lin also held studies tracking cognitive abilities of nearly 2,000 adults, age averaging at 77 years. After 6 years of observation, Lin’s researchers found that participants whose hearing loss was severe enough to interfere with daily conversation were 24% more likely to display diminished cognitive abilities. In a secondary study, Lin and his colleagues tested participants’ mental abilities regularly for over 12 years. Results of this study showed that the worse the initial hearing loss was, the more likely the person was to develop dementia.
University of Melbourne Associate Professor and Chief Investigator of the study, Julia Sarant, stated that although “there is currently no successful treatment of cognitive decline or dementia…This research is a positive step in investigating the treatment of hearing aids to delay cognitive decline.”