Hearing loss and cognitive decline
Several years ago The New York Times published an article describing a study which found a high correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline (i.e.: Alzheimer’s, dementia). It was also found that greater degrees of hearing loss were associated with a higher percentage of risk of dementia. Our office was inundated with calls from patients who were understandably upset by these findings. They wanted to know what they could do about the anticipated decline. At that time we had no medically-proven answers as the study hadn’t gone far enough to answer those questions. Fortunately the answer is now known. The two recent studies highlighted above have proven that patients with hearing loss who ‘actively’ utilize hearing aids, that is, wearing them on a daily basis, have a similar rate of cognitive decline as individuals with normal hearing. In essence, people with hearing loss who ‘actively’ use hearing aids, prevent or slow the development of cognitive decline associated with their hearing loss.
The reasons for this finding are not clear. Some suppose that areas of the brain which are typically dedicated to hearing and understanding go dormant when not being stimulated with hearing aids and when the patient needs to figure out what is being said the brain utilizes other areas which are typically dedicated to memory and learning. Others believe it is the social isolation which is a by-product of hearing loss. Oftentimes the patient slowly stops participating in social situations due to their inability to follow conversation.
For years we have known that the patients who did the best with their hearing aids were the patients who wore their hearing aids all day everyday. We always encourage our patients to wear their devices when ‘they are awake and not getting wet’. Or, take them out only for sleep and showering etc. Now there is another great reason for wearing hearing aids on a daily basis.