Wearing Hearing Aids May Help Protect the Brain in Later Life
Hearing aids primarily exist to make it easier to detect sounds when you have hearing loss. It seems, however, that they may also have other benefits. Research has suggested that wearing a hearing aid could protect your brain, which in turn could reduce your risk of developing dementia.
Hearing loss and dementia
Both hearing loss and dementia are complicated conditions with a range of causes and risk factors. Both are associated with advancing age, and both get progressively worse. They cannot be cured, but symptoms can be managed with treatment, particularly if the intervention is as early as possible. It is also possible to confuse the conditions because there is significant overlap between the symptoms. For example, difficulty with communication, speaking and following a conversation can be because of problems with your ears or problems with your brain. Scientists have been looking with interest at the other possible links between the two conditions.
It seems that people with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia. The more severe the hearing loss, the greater the risk. This holds true regardless of age, gender, race or other associated medical conditions such as diabetes. The big question is why, and scientists are still not sure of the answer.
One theory is that hearing loss is connected to the mental deterioration associated with dementia. This deterioration can be exacerbated when the brain becomes overwhelmed from too many years trying to interpret audio input, which can take a lot of cerebral energy. Another theory is that it is not so much that the physiology of the conditions that is the same but simply that hearing loss can lead to social isolation, which is another dementia risk factor that can also contribute to depression and anxiety.
PROTECT is an online study being conducted by the University of Exeter and King’s College London. It has around 25,000 participants, each of them 50 or older. This particular study compared two groups of people: one with hearing aids and one without. The participants with hearing aids performed better in cognitive tests that were designed to assess working memory and reaction times as well as more general attention and concentration. This is just one of the studies that has been done to show how cognition and hearing are linked, or how hearing aids can improve brain performance and reduce the risk of degeneration. These results also suggest it is likely to remain a popular research topic into the future as scientists seek further understanding of the connections between hearing loss and cognitive function.
Hearing aids as protection
Many of the risk factors for dementia are things that we cannot influence directly. We have no control over our genes, and aging is inevitable. Hearing loss, on the other hand, is something we can manage. If reducing the effects of hearing loss makes developing dementia less likely, hearing aids are clearly a simple yet powerful way to improve our chances. A device such as the Nexus HD App-Controlled Hearing Aid can use the most modern digital technology to provide powerful, convenient and unobtrusive relief from hearing loss.
Hearing aids and cognitive function
The brain controls every aspect of the body. If your ears are not sending the proper signals to the brain, it is unable to work at its best. You may even start to forget sounds because it has been so long since you heard them that the brain can no longer store the memory. Interpreting sound and understanding speech take a lot of the brain’s energy.
If hearing loss and cognitive function are so closely linked, and if wearing a hearing aid is also a way to reduce the risk of developing dementia, it becomes particularly important to ensure you have your hearing tested regularly and start wearing the appropriate hearing aid if necessary. This does not necessarily have to involve great time and expense. Both testing and hearing aids have become steadily more accessible, with the HearIQ Hearing Screening available online without having to visit an audiologist.
For people who want to reduce their risk of dementia, there are a range of small steps that are recommended as they reach middle age. Now it seems that taking swift and appropriate action to deal with hearing loss may very well be one of them. Choosing the right hearing aid may not just improve your auditory perception; it might also protect your brain from dementia.