Hearing solutions provider Phonak has unveiled ECHHO (Enhancing Cognitive Health via Hearing Optimization), a dedicated training program aimed to empower hearing care professionals (HCPs) with the knowledge and tools to better integrate the cognitive health aspect into their discussions with clients. 

The ECHHO program, announced on the heels of new studies showing that treating hearing loss in older adults may slow down cognitive decline, will be rolled out in Fall 2023 and includes comprehensive training for hearing care professionals.

Recent studies have shed light on the potential link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, emphasizing the broader impact on overall well-being and quality of life. While there is no cure for dementia and hearing aids cannot be considered a panacea, Phonak recognizes the importance of fostering social participation and promoting an active lifestyle through their innovative hearing solutions. 

About the ECHHO Program

Phonak has decided to develop the ECHHO training program to encourage hearing care professionals (HCPs) to integrate cognitive health in their audiological counselling with their clients to strengthen the understanding of the benefits of hearing technology beyond just hearing better. 

“At Phonak, we recognize the profound impact that hearing health can have on cognitive well-being,” says Angela Pelosi, Phonak senior director Audiology. “We believe that by proactively addressing hearing loss and promoting healthy living, we can help mitigate the risk of cognitive decline and positively impact the overall well-being of individuals. The ECHHO program represents our dedication to advancing the field of holistic hearing care and underscores our commitment to providing life-changing solutions for our clients.”

This program will include: 

  • Latest research and evidence about hearing intervention’s impact on cognitive well-being
  • The relationship between hearing loss and cognition
  • Audiological best practices for integrating cognition into the clinical conversation
  • Working with clients with or exhibiting signs of cognitive decline or dementia

New Studies Linking Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

New results have also been released from two studies which provide additional evidence supporting the potential benefits of hearing intervention including hearing aids in preserving cognitive function over time.

The ACHIEVE and ENHANCE studies incorporate longitudinal observations, best practice audiological management, controlled hearing interventions, and comprehensive cognitive assessments to provide more insight into the causal relationship between hearing loss and cognition.

ACHIEVE (Aging and Cognitive Health Evaluation in Elders)  – Randomized Controlled Trial

Published in The Lancet on July 18

Key findings:

  • In older adults at increased risk for cognitive decline, hearing intervention slowed down loss of thinking and memory abilities by 48% over 3 years.
  • Specifically with memory, participants in the heart health study group who received the hearing intervention, on average, had no declines in memory over the 3-year period compared to a decrease in memory seen in participants who received the control intervention.
  • Treating hearing loss in older adults at increased risk for cognitive decline slows down loss of thinking and memory abilities

ENHANCE (Evaluation of Hearing Aids and Cognitive Effects) – Prospective Cohort Study

Key findings:

  • Comparatively, cognition at 3-year follow-up was stable overall for hearing aid users but declined for the non-hearing aid user group
  • Treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids may delay cognitive decline
  • Referral to hearing screening and rehabilitation may assist with delaying/minimizing cognitive decline in older adults.

Both studies were supported by Sonova’s research program and an in-kind donation of Phonak hearing aids. 

“One of the things we want to be clear about with ECHHO is really taking a positive approach around this conversation,” says Stacey Rich, senior manager of audiology thought leadership and education, Phonak. “While the new studies talk about cognitive decline or risk factors for dementia, those are words that can be unsettling for a client or a patient having their hearing checked because they’ve noticed hearing difficulties. So we want to encourage clinicians to take a positive approach and we also want them to include questions for clients or patients around cognitive health.”

Sonova and its brand Phonak have been supporting clinical research for a long time and are committed to further supporting and driving evidence in the field of holistic hearing care.

Photo: Phonak