Hearing Aids and Dementia

Can Hearing Devices Lower Risk of Cognitive Decline?
Last update on Dec, 28, 2023

Did you know that Alzheimer's and other dementias are expected to cost the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $345 billion in patient care in 2023? The cost is projected to rise to almost $1 trillion by 2050, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Studies have shown that people who experience hearing loss are at a greater risk of developing dementia, leaving researchers to wonder whether hearing aids can help protect the brain and reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older adults. 

New Findings in Hearing Aids and Dementia Study

A research team co-led by Dr. Frank Lin from Johns Hopkins University conducted a clinical trial named ACHIEVE (Aging and Cognitive Health Evaluation in Elders) involving 977 adults aged between 70 and 84 years.

Purpose of the Trial

To compare the rate of cognitive decline over a three-year period between people who received hearing aids and those who did not.

About the Study

The researchers recruited participants with substantial hearing loss from two different study populations.

  • 238 older adults were selected who were already participating in a long-term heart health study.
  • 739 people who were newly recruited from the surrounding communities. 

Key Factors

Participants from the heart health study had more risk factors for developing dementia, including being older and having faster rates of cognitive decline than those from the general community.

The researchers then divided the participants randomly into two groups.

  • One group (490 participants) received hearing aids and instruction on how to use them,
  • The other group (487 participants) was assigned to a health education program promoting healthy aging.

Following semi-annual visits over three years, researchers collected data on both groups' cognitive abilities, mental health, and physical health, later publishing their analysis in The Lancet. 

The Results

The study revealed that individuals who received hearing aids showed significant improvement in their communication abilities. In contrast, those in the health education group did not experience any positive changes in their hearing and communication skills.

When all study participants were analyzed, there was no significant difference in the rate of cognitive functioning between those who received hearing aids and those who didn't.

However, when the researchers focused on people with a higher risk of dementia (i.e., participants from the heart health study), the results showed a substantial advantage from using hearing aids—a 50% reduction in the rate of cognitive decline.

So, Why Does This Matter?

As this study and many others have demonstrated, hearing aids can positively impact cognitive decline in people at high risk of dementia. Therefore, we can no longer overlook the data gathered here about the link between hearing aids and dementia and must take action to help prevent cognitive decline in our aging population, whenever possible.

Health plans can start now by offering hearing benefits to their members to treat hearing loss early and reduce the risk of cognitive decline in at-risk populations.

Understanding The Impact of Hearing Loss

Many people consider hearing loss a natural part of aging, not a significant health concern. However, hearing loss can develop gradually and might not be noticeable immediately. This can make it challenging for people to recognize that they are experiencing hearing loss and seek necessary medical care.

Hearing loss can significantly impact a person's quality of life. It can lead to cognitive decline—as mentioned earlier—social isolation and depression. When left untreated, hearing loss can cause other health problems, such as injuries from falls, requiring hospitalization and outpatient care.

Therefore, health plans should prioritize hearing health and provide coverage for hearing care. This includes:

  • Regular hearing screenings
  • Hearing aids
  • Other assistive technologies that improve a person's communication and engagement with the world around them

Simply put, by providing hearing benefits, health plans can help reduce the impact of high cost health conditions, improve members' quality of life, and save on healthcare costs in the long run.

Hearing aids with keys and purse

Need Quality Hearing Benefits?

If your organization doesn't offer a hearing benefit, Amplifon Hearing Health Care can help. We'll help you design and implement a comprehensive hearing health care program that gives your members more flexible hearing health options to improve health outcomes and drive greater satisfaction.

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