Wearing hearing aids may delay cognitive decline in older adults and improve brain function, according to promising new research summarized on the University of Melbourne’s website.

Cognitive decline is associated with hearing loss, which affects about 32% of people aged 55 years, and more than 70% of people aged over 70 years, according to the university. Hearing loss has been identified as a modifiable risk factor for dementia.

University of Melbourne researchers have tested the use of hearing aids in almost 100 adults aged 62-82 years with hearing loss.

Participants were assessed before and 18 months after having hearing aids fitted on their hearing, cognitive function, speech perception, quality of life, physical activity, loneliness, mood, and medical health.

After 18 months of hearing aid use, researchers found speech perception, self-reported listening disability, and quality of life had significantly improved for participants.

Most notably, 97.3% of participants in this study showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function—their mental ability to plan, organize information, and initiate tasks.

Women, in particular, showed significant improvements in working memory—used for reasoning and decision-making—as well as most other cognitive functions assessed.

The study also found more frequent use of hearing aids was associated with greater improvements in cognitive function, and women were much more diligent at wearing the devices than men.

University of Melbourne Associate Professor and Chief Investigator of the study, Julia Sarant, said improvement in cognitive function is something that is not usually seen in older adults.

“Although there are successful treatments for hearing loss, there is currently no successful treatment for cognitive decline or dementia,” Sarant said.

“This research is a positive step in investigating the treatment of hearing aids to delay cognitive decline. Further research is underway to compare cognitive outcomes from a larger sample size with those of a healthy aging comparison group of older Australians with typical hearing for their age,” said Sarant.

This research is published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.

This research was funded by Swiss hearing care company, Sonova AG. Two of the paper authors, Ulrike Lemke and Stefan Launer are affiliated with Sonova AG as employees. Participants were recruited from the University of Melbourne Academic Hearing Aids Audiology Clinic and many were highly educated, prompting the need for further research with a larger sample size that’s more representative of the general population. Participants were people who had been assessed as needing hearing aids and had decided to trial using them for the first time. Participants were fitted with the hearing aid of their choosing; they didn’t have to be Sonova branded (though some did choose their products).

Original Paper: Sarant J, Harris D, Busby P, et al. The effect of hearing aid use on cognition in older adults: can we delay decline or even improve cognitive function? Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2020;9(1):254.

Source: University of Melbourne, Journal of Clinical Medicine