By John Salak –
Hearing loss is not just an annoying inconvenience. It is a debilitating condition that two recent studies report can help speed the deterioration of cognitive functions and may lead to early death. The good news is that hearing aids may actually help offset these consequences.
The University of Southern Denmark is reporting it found a link between hearing loss and the development of dementia. The university’s researchers discovered that people who are hard of hearing spend more energy listening and this comes at the expense of other cognitive functions.
The Danish researchers, who based their results on data from almost 600,000 people, noted that millions of people already suffer from dementia. Alzheimer’s Disease International, in fact, reports more than 50 million people worldwide now suffer from dementia, a number that could grow to approximately 80 million by 2030.
The rise is certainly fostered by the overall aging of the world population, but there are other risk factors, such as lifestyle and hearing.
“Previous studies have suggested that there could be a link between hearing loss and dementia. Our study is larger than the previous studies, and we have demonstrated a link between hearing loss and dementia,” reported Assistant Professor Manuella Lech Cantuaria.
People suffering from hearing loss have up to a 13 percent higher risk of developing dementia than those with normal hearing. The risk is especially high for those with severe hearing loss. Given that approximately 40 million American adults have hearing loss, the potential impact is significant.
Hearing aids are seen as a critical tool in offsetting not only the risk of dementia but also extending the longevity of those with compromised hearing. Unfortunately, only one in ten individuals who need hearing aids have them.
“We found that the risk of developing dementia was 20 percent higher for people who didn’t wear hearing aids compared to people with normal hearing. People who used hearing aids had a 6 percent increased risk of developing dementia. This suggests that wearing a hearing aid can prevent or delay the development of dementia,” said Manuella Lech Cantuaria.
A separate study from Keck Medicine of USA reported that hearing aids may also be a lifesaver or life extender.
“We found that adults with hearing loss who regularly used hearing aids had a 24 percent lower risk of mortality than those who never wore them,” reported lead researcher Dr. Janet Choi, an otolaryngologist with Keck Medicine. “These results are exciting because they suggest that hearing aids may play a protective role in people’s health and prevent early death.”
The Keck study noted that previous studies had already found that untreated hearing loss can lead to early death. This latest research project was the first to examine whether hearing aids can reduce this risk. Choi said it represents the most comprehensive analysis to date on the relationship between hearing loss, hearing aid use and mortality in the United States.
The researchers relied on over a decade of data from almost 20,000 American adults to examine the potential connections. They found that the almost 25 percent difference in mortality risk between regular hearing aid users and never-users remained steady, regardless of variables such as the degree of hearing loss, age, ethnicity, income, education, other demographics and medical history. Of note, limited use of hearing aids provided no life-extending benefits.
While the Kech team identified a correlation between hearing aids and extended life benefits, the researchers didn’t pinpoint the reason for the benefits. Choi, however, speculated that the improvements in mental health and cognition that come with improved hearing can promote better overall health, which may improve life span.
Regardless of the reason, Choi hopes this study will encourage more people to wear hearing aids.