Hearing Aid Use May Reduce Dementia Risk
Researchers have identified an association between hearing loss and an increased risk of developing dementia. However, new evidence suggests it may be possible for people with hearing loss to forestall dementia’s onset.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, nearly one in four people in the United States aged 65 to 74 has a disabling hearing loss. For those over the age of 75, that estimate increases to one in two. Despite the established link between hearing loss and dementia, hearing aid use in this population doesn’t approach the level sufficient to remedy this sensory loss that can be so devastating, often leading to depression, anxiety and social isolation.
A recent study conducted by a team of University of Michigan researchers and published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that a mere 12% of people formally diagnosed with hearing loss acquire hearing aids, even when their insurance would cover at least a portion of the cost. The study likewise revealed discrepancies in hearing aid use among geographic locations, ethnic backgrounds and genders.
Examining the course of patients who received hearing aids over the three-year study period compared with those who got no devices, researchers found the relative risk of being diagnosed with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, within three years of hearing loss diagnosis was 18% lower for hearing aid users. The risk of being diagnosed with depression or anxiety by the end of the three years was 11% lower for hearing aid users, while the risk of being treated for fall-related injuries was 13% lower. Additionally, the study confirmed findings that people with hearing loss experience significantly higher rates of dementia, depression and fall-related injuries than the general population.
Findings also concluded that men with hearing loss were more likely to receive hearing aids, 13.3% compared with 11.3% of women. Only 6.5% of people of Latino background received a hearing aid for hearing loss, compared with 9.8% of blacks and 13.6% of Caucasians. Geographically, nearly 37% of people with hearing loss living in the north-central part of the country used a hearing aid, compared with only 5.9% of people in mountain states.
“We already know that people with hearing loss have more adverse health events, and more co-existing conditions, but this study allows us to see the effects of an intervention and look for associations between hearing aids and health outcomes,” said Elham Mahmoudi, MBA, PhD, the U-M department of family medicine health economist who led the study. “Though hearing aids can’t be said to prevent these conditions, a delay in the onset of dementia, depression and anxiety, and the risk of serious falls, could be significant both for the patient and for the costs to the Medicare system.”
She added, “Correcting hearing loss is an intervention that has evidence behind it, and we hope our research will help clinicians and people with hearing loss understand the potential association between getting a hearing aid and other aspects of their health.”
Age is the strongest predictor of hearing loss. If you are experiencing difficulty with hearing or have a spouse or family member who might be, it’s important to undergo hearing tests, identify any specific loss and, with your provider, determine the appropriate course of treatment. If hearing aids are warranted, it’s important to acquire and use them. Be sure to check on the possibility of insurance coverage or other supplemental assistance.