In 2018, dementia cost U.S. society an estimated $277 billion in patient care, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. While hearing loss is a known risk factor for this costly health condition, researchers have wondered: Can the use of hearing aids help protect the brain and reduce the risk of dementia?
The answer appears to be a resounding “yes.”
A new 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.
The 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, the group who wore hearing aids performed better in measures assessing working memory and aspects of attention than those who did not,” states an Exeter press release. “On one attention measure, people who wore hearing aids showed faster reaction times — in everyday terms, this is a reflection of concentration.”
“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.”
An earlier study, called the SENSE-Cog Project, reached a similar conclusion. It “found a reduction in the rate of cognitive decline following hearing aid use, suggesting that effective identification and treatment of age-related hearing impairment may have a significant impact on age-associated cognitive trajectories and possibly reduce the incidence of dementia.”