The Link Between Hearing Loss, Hearing Aids & Cognitive Decline

Annual physicals are a part of all individual’s health routine however, audiological examinations should become part of this routine, particularly as we age. Hearing loss can have a gradual onset and as a result, may go unnoticed for many years. The average timeframe in which someone treats their diagnosed hearing loss is 7 years. The duration of untreated hearing loss is longer for many because it may take years for them to decide to get evaluated. Untreated hearing loss may begin to affect interpersonal relationships and those individuals may withdraw from social interactions and become depressed.

Some warning signs that may indicate an individual may need to have their hearing evaluated are:

* Ringing or buzzing in the ears
* Can hear but not understand others speaking
* Group conversations are difficult
* The TV or radio is louder than normal and others report it is too loud
* They ask others to repeat themselves
* Everyday sounds such as footsteps, humming of the refrigerator or the doorbell are no longer audible

A long term study, “Self-Reported Hearing Loss: Hearing Aids and Cognitive Decline in Edlerly Adults: A 25-year Study,” compared the rate of cognitive decline among older adults who were using hearing aids to those who were not. The outcome found no difference in the rate of cognitive decline between those with no reported hearing loss (the control group) and those who had a hearing loss and were using amplification. However, it was found that those with untreated hearing loss had significantly lower baseline scores on the Mini-Mental State Examination, a well-established test of cognitive function, during the 25-year follow-up period, independent of age, gender and education.

By treating the diagnosed hearing loss with amplification, hearing aid users can experience improved communication with those around them. As a result their moods are improved, they expose themselves to more social interactions and cognitively stimulating activities. This is most likely the underlying reason for the decreased cognitive decline reported in the study.

Untreated hearing loss results in decreased ability to understand speech and increased rate of cognitive decline due to lack of neural stimulation. It is time for a new way of thinking about the importance of hearing care and hearing solutions. Annual audiological evaluations should be conducted to determine the status of individuals hearing and help prevent untreated hearing loss due to lack of diagnosis.