Study Suggests Hearing Aids Slow Cognitive Decline

Cognitive decline, especially dementia and Alzheimer's, is a growing worry among the elderly. Could the link between hearing loss and this decline be a breakthrough in slowing down the process?

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Study Suggests Hearing Aids Slow Cognitive Decline

Cognitive decline, especially dementia and Alzheimer's, is a growing worry among the elderly. Could the link between hearing loss and this decline be a breakthrough in slowing down the process? Recent findings from the major ACHIEVE study have unveiled intriguing insights, possibly unlocking a key to preserving cognitive health.

ACHIEVE Study Finds Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia

The Aging and Cognitive Health Evaluation in Elders (ACHIEVE) study is the largest randomized, controlled clinical trial to date examining the impact of hearing aids on mitigating long-term cognitive decline in older adults. The research was multi-centrally conducted, led by teams from the Johns Hopkins University and the University of South Florida, among others. 

Published in The Lancet, the participants of the ACHIEVE study included adults aged 70-84 with untreated hearing loss but without severe cognitive decline. Researchers found that among the subgroups at higher risk for cognitive decline, such as those observed in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, the intervention of hearing aids for three years slowed cognitive decline by 48%.

Impact of Hearing Care on Cognitive Health

Elderly individuals given hearing aids, a specialized toolkit, self-management guidance, and ongoing audiologist support showed remarkable cognitive resilience. In stark contrast, those only educated about chronic disease prevention didn't exhibit the same mental strength, highlighting the potential power of hearing care in preserving cognitive health.

Understanding this connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline throws light on the potential for early intervention strategies to help prevent or delay the onset of dementia. Dr. Frank Lin, co-principal investigator of the ACHIEVE study, remarked, “Hearing loss is very treatable in later life, which makes it an important public health target to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.”

Why Hearing Loss Leads to Dementia: A Threefold Explanation

Lin offered three reasons why hearing loss leads to dementia:

#1: Hearing loss increases cognitive load

The effort the brain exerts on processing garbled sound signals due to hearing loss can potentially deplete resources usually meant for supporting thinking and memory abilities. 

#2: Hearing loss can lead to brain atrophy

Hearing loss can lead to under-stimulation of the brain areas responsible for sound processing, causing structural changes and brain atrophy. 

#3: Hearing loss leads to social Isolation

Lastly, the effect of hearing loss on effective communication and social interaction can lead to social isolation, a known risk factor for dementia.

Hope for the Future: Treating Hearing Loss to Combat Dementia

The ACHIEVE study has ignited hope by highlighting how treating hearing loss might slow cognitive decline, possibly even reducing dementia risk. It revealed that for older adults facing cognitive challenges, hearing intervention could significantly help over three years.

However, the full picture is yet to be understood, with more research needed to explore how hearing aids and counseling bring cognitive benefits and their long-term effects.

Hearing Care: A New Path in Cognitive Health

This recent research opens up a promising path for enhancing cognitive health through hearing care. It suggests that millions of older adults globally could live richer lives by preserving their cognitive abilities through better hearing. Although further studies are required, the importance of addressing hearing loss when it comes to preventing and delaying dementia is clear. If you or someone you know needs to have their hearing checked, please schedule an appointment with our Los Gatos hearing care practice.

Marni Novick, Audiologist in Los Gatos, CA

Dr. Marni Novick

Founder & Audiologist

Marni Novick, AuD, is founder of Silicon Valley Hearing, Inc., which opened its doors in 2014, with the promise of delivering honest and affordable hearing health care, along with exceptional customer service to her valued patients.

About Dr. Novick