Several studies have found a relationship between hearing loss and a decline in mental function in adults. For example, a study conducted at the Johns Hopkin’s School of Medicine found “for individuals older than 60 years, more than one third of the risk of dementia was associated with hearing loss.”
The researchers suggested that using hearing aids can minimize the risk of dementia. But do we really know that hearing aids can protect mental health? Apparently we do. Several studies now suggest that hearing aids can minimize and perhaps even eliminate the decline in mental function associated with untreated hearing loss.
In one small study, adults who used hearing aids had no difference in a test of mental function than the group with normal hearing. However, the group with hearing loss that did not use hearing aids had lower scores on the test.
A larger study of nearly 4,000 older adults conducted over a 25-year period had similar findings. The adults were divided into three groups: (1) no hearing loss; (2) hearing loss and no hearing aids; (3) hearing loss with hearing aids. When tested 25 years later, the adults who used hearing aids had no significant difference in mental performance from the group with normal hearing. The group that didn’t use hearing aids declined more on tests of brain function than those who used hearing aids.
Untreated hearing loss has been associated with social isolation, anxiety and depression. The use of hearing aids minimizes that social isolation and may explain the lack of brain function decline in the group that used hearing aids. On the other hand, this was not a randomized study. It could be that adults who choose to use hearing aids differ in other ways from those who do not.
Nevertheless, research strongly supports the importance of keeping your hearing active and healthy. It seems that using hearing aids not only reduces the social isolation and depression caused by untreated hearing loss, but can also play an important role in keeping your brain healthy. You’ll hear better AND think better.