Can Hearing Aids Really Reduce the Risk of Dementia, Depression and Accidents?
If you regularly follow our blog, you’re probably already aware of the well-established link between hearing loss and dementia. As we grow older, we gradually lose our ability to hear. And this places greater strain on the auditory centers of our brain – forcing us to work harder and harder to hear the conversations happening all around us.
This extra effort inevitably leads to cognitive decline, fatigue and stress – all of which are high-risk factors for dementia.
Worse still, feelings of depression and social isolation can also emerge as you increasingly find yourself on the sidelines – struggling to keep up with normal, everyday conversations (many of which involve you).
It doesn’t help that both depression and social isolation are also dementia-related risk factors in their own right.
Recent Evidence Only Strengthens the Link between Hearing and Mental Health
The relationship between hearing loss and dementia is well-documented. But only recently have researchers started to take a more active interest in studying this link in greater detail.
For example, the University of Michigan recently published a landmark 2019 study including data from over 115,000 participants – aged 66 and older. The researchers’ found that:
- Older Americans who use hearing aids to correct hearing loss are 18% less likely to suffer from dementia than those who voluntarily choose not to wear their devices.
- Participants who regularly wore hearing aids also faced an 11% reduction in anxiety and depression compared with those who need corrective hearing devices, but opted not to wear them.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, also found some surprising negative consequences of not wearing hearing aids. For example, those who need (but forgo) corrective solutions saw the risk of fall-related injuries increase by 13%.
Does Hearing Loss Cause Dementia and Depression?
It’s important to note that simply wearing hearing aids doesn’t necessarily prevent cognitive decline or depression. As exhaustive as the University of Michigan study was, it only tracked participants for 3 years after choosing to wear or not wear corrective hearing devices.
So as of yet, there is no conclusive evidence that:
- Age-related hearing loss causes dementia or depression
- Wearing hearing aids automatically protects you from either
Moreover, because many auditory services aren’t covered by programs like Medicare, there exist important socioeconomic and geographic disparities throughout the research.
Those from disadvantaged communities, for example, often have less access to quality care or coverage – and thus – face a higher risk of tangential complications like dementia, depression or accidents. However, some of these disparities could disappear if California expands coverage under the currently proposed Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act of 2019 (H.R. 4056).
But despite these hurdles and limitations, the initial research is still very promising.
Wearing hearing aids – when properly customized and fitted by a licensed audiologist – can have a measurable and positive impact on a number of age-related medical complications. And given the amount of time, money and resources that go into fighting dementia and anxiety, expanded hearing aid coverage represents a cost-effective strategy for delaying their onset and managing their long-term costs.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Other Areas of Physical and Mental Health
In addition to reducing the risk of dementia and depression, wearing hearing aids can also positively impact other areas of health that weren’t necessarily examined in the University of Michigan study.
For example, you might not be at risk of Alzheimer’s – due to genetics, lifestyle or environment. But voluntarily not wearing hearing aids when you need them puts you at risk of headaches, fatigue, insomnia and even memory loss. Left untreated long enough, hearing loss can also lead to auditory deprivation, which itself, can result in a whole cascade of other medical complications.
And unfortunately, the probability of not wearing hearing aids when you actually need them increases if you source your devices from dispensers or over-the-counter retailers – neither of whom are qualified to provide the full range of audiological services required for proper testing, fitting and customization.
In fact, we’ve often found that patients who explored either of the above avenues in the past ended up not wearing their hearing aids – due to subpar performance or extreme discomfort. But regardless of the reason, these patients consistently face a significantly greater risk of experiencing age-related medical complications when they voluntarily choose not to wear corrective hearing devices.
What to Do If You Suspect a Hearing Loss
Based on everything above, it’s clear that you should have your hearing tested and corrected the moment you suspect any decline in hearing ability. Even if dementia isn’t a risk factor, choosing not to wear hearing aids can negatively impact the overall quality of your life.
In other words, the sooner you take action, the better.
So we encourage you to schedule a hearing screening at our Sacramento clinic today.
But if you’re looking for even more reason to have your hearing tested ASAP, keep reading.
Hearing Loss during the Holiday Season
Just as with hearing loss, many of the age-related complications outlined above happen gradually over time. But their effects are often most acute around the holiday season (which is fast approaching).
And here’s why.
The stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is when we gather with family and friends to celebrate good times. But for those with untreated hearing loss, the holiday season can often mean something very different.
As Segei Kochkin of the Better Hearing Institute explains,
“The holiday season is meant to be a time of thanks, celebration, and joy. But for many people, it is a time of year when unaddressed hearing loss can cause them to feel particularly isolated and depressed. Even when surrounded by loved ones, a family member’s impaired ability to hear and actively participate in conversation cuts them off. Oftentimes, they are left with a sense of sadness, inadequacy, and emotional isolation. This is especially true when the hearing loss is either unrecognized or is being ‘hidden’ by the family member with hearing loss.”
So if you’re looking for the perfect gift – either for yourself or for a loved one who suffers from hearing loss – consider scheduling a hearing check before the busy holiday season arrives.
With comprehensive on-site evaluations and a huge selection of high-quality hearing devices, our Doctors of Audiology, Kirsten and Julia, can help reduce your risk of dementia and depression to ensure this holiday season is worth celebrating.
We even have the on-site resources to optimize any hearing aids you may have purchased from another provider if you find these devices too ineffective or uncomfortable to wear.
To have your hearing tested before the busy holiday season, schedule a comprehensive evaluation at our Sacramento clinic today.
Interested in learning more? Attend one of our regular hearing solution events to learn more about our unique approach to hearing loss or give us a call at 916-646-2471.Contact Us Now