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One of the robust facts about hearing loss is a connection with cognitive decline and dementia. Study after study demonstrates that those who have untreated hearing loss have significantly higher rates of dementia than those who have normal hearing ability. In addition, those who have untreated hearing loss tend to have a faster rate of cognitive decline once that process begins. This relationship has been explored extensively at the level of population data, and a new wave of research is also looking at the brain processes that take place to connect hearing loss and dementia. In contrast with these findings, a new study has found that those who wear hearing aids fare better on cognitive tests than their counterparts who do not us hearing aids. It appears that the crucial link between dementia and hearing loss is the ease of communication. Those who have untreated hearing loss usually have more trouble communicating, and that fragmented process of listening, processing language, and speaking can cause a lot of confusion. Let’s take a closer look at the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline, as well as the results of the study. Once we know the power of hearing aids to address communication issues, we can better understand how they can help slow down cognitive decline, as well.
Communication and Cognitive Decline
In our senior years, it is quite common to have memory issues. Of course, people of all ages have issues with remembering facts, names, words, numbers, and processes, but these features of cognition tend to become more difficult as the years go on. When memory and other mental faculties become more difficult, we are keen to find ways to improve cognition. Some healthy habits have been linked to better cognitive performance in the senior years, including the classics of diet and exercise. In addition to these general health approaches, there are specific tools and games that can improve your cognitive performance. Crosswords and other language-based games are good for keeping your mind sharp, but conversations are also a straightforward way to strengthen your mental acuity. When you engage in the improvised back-and-forth of a conversation, you are testing your mind’s ability to receive information, process it, and respond appropriately. These tasks are important for preventing cognitive decline, and communication is a great way to stay sharp.
Hearing Aids and Cognition
How are hearing aids connected to your cognitive ability? These devices are one way to supply your brain with more language-based stimulation. When you take part in a conversation without hearing aids, the mind of a person with hearing loss will scramble to put together the pieces. Each aspect of sound occurs as an isolated unit, rather than a sensible whole, such as a word or phrase. When you wear hearing aids, however, that stream of sound can better present itself to your mind as something workable. You can process that sound and practice thinking about its meaning. When your brain isn’t devoted to the task of transforming random sounds into estimated words, it can devote its energy to thinking about meaning and creatively coming up with a response. This process isn’t a “brain game” per se, but it is a way to challenge your mind to stay sharp and to improve or maintain cognitive ability over time.
Studies have shown that those who use hearing aids tend to fare better on cognitive exams than those who do not. One 2018 report under the title “Longitudinal Relationship Between Hearing Aid Use and Cognitive Function in Older Americans” found that hearing aid use was correlated with better scores on episodic memory tests, as well as slower rates of decline in these scores over time. With these promising findings in mind, why not take the first step toward getting hearing aids: scheduling a hearing test. Once you have your test results, our hearing health professionals can connect you with the right aids for your needs. We will guide you through the process of fitting your aids, adjusting to using them, and dealing with any issues that arise as you make the adjustment in your daily life. Don’t delay getting the hearing help you need and supporting healthy cognition, as well.