The sisters involved in the “overheard” conversation above are justifiably concerned about their dad’s cognitive health. They may wonder whether he’s in the early stages of dementia — a condition that takes a terrible personal toll on the individual as well as loved ones.
Dementia also comes with an enormous economic burden. In 2019, the direct costs to American society of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias totaled an estimated $290 billion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Much of this expense is borne by Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance companies.
At the same time, the conversation between Janelle and Kathy illustrates a widespread unawareness of the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline, even when a person exhibits obvious signs of both conditions.
Could their dad’s cognitive health benefit from treatment of his hearing loss? No one can say for sure. However, some research suggests a cognitive benefit from hearing loss treatment.
Dr. Justin Golub, who has studied the correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline, “suspects that people might be able to remain more mentally sharp if they started wearing hearing aids as soon as they started to have even mild issues with hearing,” reports a Reuters Health article.
Another study conducted by the University of Exeter and King’s College London concluded that people who wear hearing aids for age-related hearing loss maintain better brain function over time than their non-aided peers. Exeter’s PROTECT online study involved 25,000 people age 50 and over, divided into two groups: hearing aid wearers and non-wearers. Participants took annual cognitive tests over a span of two years. After that time, those who wore hearing aids performed better in measures assessing working memory and aspects of attention than those who did not.
“We know that we could reduce dementia risk by a third if we all took action from mid-life,” says Exeter Professor Clive Ballard. “This is an early finding and needs more investigation, yet it has exciting potential. The message here is that if you’re advised you need a hearing aid, find one that works for you. At the very least, it will improve your hearing, and it could help keep your brain sharp, too.”