“This was really an exciting study,” said Dr. Julie Prutsman at Sound Relief Hearing Center in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. “We’ve known for years that there is a connection or a link between untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline or dementia.”
The study, she said, shows what impact hearing loss intervention can have.
Researchers analyzed more than 3,000 people – some that were considered healthy community volunteers, and older adults from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, a long-term observational study focused on cardiovascular health, according to CBS News.
During the study, participants were randomly placed into one of two groups: ‘hearing intervention, which received audiological counseling and hearing aids, or ‘control intervention,’ which received health education regarding topics on chronic disease prevention. Researchers followed up with the groups every six months over a three-year period, and then scored them based on a “comprehensive neurocognitive” test.
In the published study, researchers say there was no major reduction in cognitive decline with the use of hearing aids. But, among the older participants, researchers say they found a “significant difference.”
“These findings suggest that a hearing intervention might reduce cognitive change over 3 years in populations of older adults at increased risk for cognitive decline but not in populations at decreased risk for cognitive decline,” researchers wrote.
Dr. Prutsman said the study offers “hope for these individuals if we treat something as simple as hearing loss.”
Dr. Ira Chang, the medical director of neurocritical care at Swedish Medical Center, said there are different theories about how hearing loss impacts cognition.
“Maybe by not using those parts of the brain, they are atrophying faster, and maybe they are not as social,” Chang said.
With the results of this study, Chang is glad to have another possible way to help her patients at high risk of dementia to slow the process.
“I think this is a very exciting, very concrete intervention that we can use,” she said.
Hearing tests can be completed in 30 minutes or less, and Prutsman said there are many different kinds of hearing instruments available that are almost undetectable. Some even have Bluetooth technology.
She hopes families will look at their options.
“Early intervention is so critical to better outcomes,” she said.