Quick Take

Wearing hearing aids may slow down cognitive decline by nearly 50% in three years for seniors at a higher risk of dementia.

Addressing hearing loss might be a promising approach to reduce dementia risks in susceptible groups.

In the face of rising dementia concerns, a recent revelation has stirred hope: individuals at a heightened risk who wore hearing aids experienced a significant reduction (almost 50%) in cognitive decline over a span of three years. With an aging global population, and increasing numbers grappling with cognitive impairments, the call for effective and affordable interventions has never been more pressing.

A correlation between hearing impairment and onset of dementia in the elderly has been noted by numerous studies. Moreover, there’s growing evidence to suggest that employing hearing aids as a remedial measure for hearing loss can potentially stall the progression of cognitive issues. However, a comprehensive, randomized trial to verify these claims was yet to be undertaken.

Dr. Frank Lin from Johns Hopkins University, supported by NIH, helmed such an investigation. The team brought on board almost 1,000 seniors, aged between 70 and 84, to examine the difference in cognitive decline rates over three years, contingent on the usage of hearing aids.

Participants, primarily with severe hearing loss, were sourced from two distinct cohorts. The first comprised 250 elderly individuals involved in a longstanding heart health study across four U.S locations. The latter group of 739 participants was freshly enrolled from neighboring communities of these sites. Intriguingly, those from the heart-health study displayed an escalated dementia risk, evidenced by advanced age and faster cognitive decline rates.

Participants were divided into two groups: one received hearing aids along with guidance on their usage, while the other was enrolled in a health education regime focusing on holistic aging. Both factions underwent bi-annual check-ins for enhanced training reinforcement.

Standardized cognitive function tests were administered annually for three years. The findings, shared in ‘The Lancet’ on July 17, 2023, revealed that individuals equipped with hearing aids observed marked enhancements in communication skills throughout the research. Predictably, the health education group didn’t report any improvements in auditory or communication abilities.

Although a broad analysis didn’t showcase significant cognitive function alterations between the two groups, a deeper dive into the heart-health study subgroup (with elevated dementia risks) painted a different picture. Here, the advantages of hearing aids were pronounced, with wearers witnessing an almost 50% drop in cognitive decline rates compared to their counterparts.

Dr. Lin emphasized the feasibility of addressing hearing issues in senior years, marking it as a pivotal strategy in dementia prevention. As the study marches forward, the team’s focus remains on tracing cognitive shifts over an extended period, alongside delving into brain imaging and social interaction data. This is aimed at getting a clearer picture of how safeguarding auditory health might shield our elderly from cognitive degradation.

Dr. Lin’s parting advice? “For holistic health and contentment, we urge seniors to periodically assess their hearing and ensure any issues are aptly addressed.”

Discover the full study results in The Lancet.

Reference:

Lin, et al. Effects of hearing intervention on cognitive decline: Results of the Aging and Cognitive Health Evaluation in Elders (ACHIEVE) randomized trial.