January 24, 2024
Growing evidence shows that good hearing is essential for keeping your brain in good working order. Two new studies underscore just how important good hearing can be.
In one of the largest studies to explore the links between hearing loss and dementia to date, researchers at the University of Southern Denmark followed 573,088 adults aged 50 and older living in Denmark. None had Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia at the start of the study.
Over the next nine years or so, more than 23,000 developed some form of dementia. The researchers found that overall, people with hearing loss had a 7 percent higher risk of developing dementia than their peers with normal hearing. The risk was particularly high in those with severe hearing loss, which increased dementia risk by 20 percent.
But wearing a hearing aid significantly reduced the risk of dementia, according to the results. “People who used hearing aids had a 6 percent increased risk of developing dementia,” which was far lower than the 20 percent risk for those with untreated severe hearing loss, said study author Manuella Lech Cantuaria, Assistant Professor in the Department of Clinical Research at the University of Southern Denmark. The findings, published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, “suggest that wearing a hearing aid can prevent or delay the development of dementia,” notes Dr. Cantuaria.
Hearing aids can provide other benefits as well. In the second study, from Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, researchers followed almost 10,000 adults for around 10 years. All of them had had hearing tests and filled out questionnaires about their hearing aid use.
The researchers found that “adults with hearing loss who regularly used hearing aids had a 24 percent lower risk of mortality than those who never wore them,” said Dr. Janet Choi, an otolaryngologist with Keck Medicine and the lead researcher of the study. “These results are exciting because they suggest that hearing aids may play a protective role in people’s health and prevent early death.” The findings were published in The Lancet Health Longevity.
The authors note that only one in 10 people who need hearing aids use them, which may be putting their brain health and overall health in jeopardy. They cite earlier research showing that untreated hearing loss can result in poor outcomes such as social isolation and depression, which are known risk factors for dementia. Dr. Choi speculates that the improvements in mental health and cognition that come with improved hearing can promote better overall health, which may in turn prolong life span.
Scientists increasingly recognize the importance of good hearing for brain health. In terms of modifiable risk factors for developing dementia, poor hearing has more of an impact than smoking, high blood pressure and lack of exercise.
So if you are finding yourself having trouble hearing others, schedule a hearing exam. The good news is that quality over-the-counter hearing aids are fast becoming more affordable and available, including models that can be worn by people with Alzheimer’s disease. Ask your doctor about what hearing aids might be right for you. A good hearing aid may help you to live for years longer, and to live those years with a brain that stays mentally sharp.
By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Eric Schmidt, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.
Sources: Manuella Lech Cantuaria, PhD; Ellen Raben Pederson, PhD; Frans. Boch Waldorff, MD, PhD; et al: “Hearing Loss, Hearing Aid Use, and Risk of Dementia in Older Adults.” JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, January 4, 2024
Janet S. Choi, MD; Meredith E. Adams, MD; Eileen M. Crimmins, PhD; et al: “Association between hearing aid use and mortality in adults with hearing loss in the USA: a mortality follow-up study of a cross-sectional cohort.” The Lancet Health Longevity, January 2024