A recent study shows that hearing-impaired older adults are more likely to suffer from memory issues than those without hearing loss. The USA Today article, Listen Up: Dementia linked to hearing loss, summarizes lead author Frank Lin’s research, which was published online in the JAMA Internal Medicine.
“Cognitive problems developed 30% to 40% faster when hearing declined to 25 decibels — mild hearing loss,” the article states.
The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, followed 1,984 adults ages 75 to 84 from 2001 to 2007. Researchers took into account other factors known to contribute to memory loss, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. At the beginning of the study, all participants had normal brain function and no hearing loss. Each patient was given two brain tests, one that asked them to memorize words and follow commands at the start of the study, and another test that timed them on how long it took to match numbers to symbols. Both tests were completed three more times to gauge if there was a cognitive decline, and if so how extreme that decline was.
The study’s statistics prove that decline was significant in the participants who became hearing impaired, compared to those who continued to have normal hearing. “Those who suffered hearing loss took 7.7 years to show mental decline, vs. 10.9 years to those with healthy hearing,” the article says.
Wearing a hearing aid can help curb the cognitive decline that this study has found, as it simulates healthy hearing. With a hearing aid, older adults don’t have to constantly exert mental energy to decode what they are hearing, thus decreasing the cognitive load on the brain. Even the Times has interviewed Dr. Lin who discusses her personal experience of hearing loss.