For people with hearing loss in Lansdale, the risk of cognitive decline is higher than in those with normal hearing. This link has been well-established for years, but until recently, it was believed that dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment took years to develop. New research shows otherwise.
Early Hearing Loss Increases Risk
Hearing loss affects 48 million Americans of all ages. Left untreated, it leads to an increased risk of a number of health problems, one of the most serious and well-studied being cognitive impairment—a decline in memory, language, thinking and judgment.
Does hearing loss increase the risk of dementia?
There have been numerous studies confirming this association, including a long-term French study published in 2018 that found higher rates of dementia in people with untreated hearing loss. It was believed that cognitive impairment was mainly confined to patients suffering from age-related hearing loss, but a new study shows that there is no “age limit” on cognitive decline; even younger patients with early-stage hearing loss show signs.
Previously, researchers had been using arbitrary measurements to determine the threshold for cognitive impairment, choosing 25 dB (about the sound of a whisper) as a gauge for cognitive impairment based on the assumption that it would not occur until patients reached this milestone. However, no studies had been done to see if that was a true and accurate measuring stick.
Do large studies show cognitive impairement in hearing aid sufferers?
Justin S. Golub, MD, MS, an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and a hearing specialist at Columbia University Irvine Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian, led a team of researchers in a study that looked at data from 6,451 adults (average age: 59) who were enrolled in two ethnically-diverse epidemiologic studies.
Which patients experienced the greatest impairement?
They were given hearing and cognition tests and, to the surprise of the researchers, the biggest decrease in cognitive ability occurred in those patients whose hearing loss was just starting—those who were diagnosed with a mere 10 dB loss in hearing. Overall, for every 10 dB decrease in hearing ability, there was a corresponding drop in cognitive ability. This was observed across the board.
Is impairement because of hearing loss, or something more?
The study isn’t without a few flaws. Researchers did not determine whether hearing loss was the cause of the patients’ cognitive impairment or merely a side effect. And it’s possible that aging does play a role in both early-onset hearing loss and cognition.
Hearing loss may reduce socializing and conversation
But, as Golub points out, “It’s also possible that people who don’t hear well tend to socialize less and, as a result, they have fewer stimulating conversations. Over many years, this could have a negative impact on cognition.” The research team is pushing for a new category, called borderline hearing loss (or something similar), to describe a condition where patients experience a reduction of 16-25 dB in hearing ability.
Do hearing aids help reduce cognitive impairement from hearing loss?
Regardless of the outcomes of additional studies, the evidence is clear that hearing aids offer benefit to people with hearing loss in Pennsylvania. Some studies have even shown that they reduce cognitive decline rates; a current study is underway to confirm this. Hearing aids do improve your ability to communicate and help improve your quality of life—at least according to nine out of 10 Pennsylvanians who wear them.
To learn more about the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, contact a Lansdale audiologist today.
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Lansdale, PA ENT Office Locations
2100 N Broad St
Lansdale, PA 19446