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The Effect of Hearing Aid Use on Cognition in Older Adults

Jun 16, 2023

Age-related hearing loss is a common issue in Australia, and extensive research has looked at how hearing aid use affects cognition in this population. Let’s explore what is currently known about the connection between the use of hearing aids and working memory.

Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline 

Numerous studies have consistently demonstrated a strong association between untreated hearing impairment and accelerated cognitive decline in older adults.

When individuals experience hearing loss, the brain must work harder to process sounds and understand speech. This increased cognitive load may divert cognitive resources from other important functions such as memory, attention, and executive functions. Over time, this strain on the brain can contribute to developing mild cognitive impairment and increase the risk of conditions like incident dementia.

However, by addressing hearing loss through the use of hearing aids, individuals can alleviate the burden on their cognitive resources and potentially delay cognitive decline.

Improved Communication 

Hearing aids are sophisticated devices designed to amplify sounds and enhance speech clarity. By wearing hearing aids, adults with hearing loss can show significant improvement in their ability to understand conversations, both in quiet and noisy environments.

Clear communication is crucial for social interactions, cognitive engagement, and maintaining relationships and positive mental health. When individuals can actively participate in conversations and comprehend information effectively, it reduces the cognitive effort required for auditory processing and frees up cognitive resources for other cognitive tasks.

Social Engagement 

Hearing loss often leads to social isolation and reduced participation in social activities.

Difficulties in hearing and understanding others can make conversations challenging and exhausting, leading individuals to withdraw from social interactions. However, maintaining an active social life is important for cognitive health. Engaging with others stimulates the brain, promotes mental acuity, and enhances cognitive abilities.

Hearing aid users can actively participate in social activities, engage in conversations, and maintain connections with friends and family. This social engagement provides cognitive stimulation and contributes to overall cognitive well-being.

Brain Stimulation 

Another hearing aid benefit is that they  provide consistent auditory stimulation, which can have a positive impact on brain plasticity and cognitive function. When individuals wear hearing aids, auditory information is consistently delivered to the brain, stimulating the auditory pathways. This ongoing stimulation helps to maintain neural connections and prevent auditory deprivation. Research suggests that regular auditory stimulation can promote neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt and reorganise itself. By keeping the auditory pathways active, hearing aids may help preserve cognitive function and aid in dementia prevention.

SIGNIA social scene

Mixed Evidence on Hearing Aids in Reducing Cognitive Decline

While many studies suggest a positive association between hearing aid use and cognition, there are varying findings in the literature. Factors such as the severity of hearing loss, the duration of hearing aid use, individual differences, and the specific cognitive domains being measured can influence the results.

Some studies have shown significant improvements in cognitive performance months after hearing aid use, while others have reported more modest effects or no significant association. Further research is necessary to understand the specific conditions under which hearing aid use has the most significant impact on cognitive function.

Timing of Intervention

Early intervention with hearing aids appears to be crucial for optimising cognitive outcomes. Research suggests that individuals who begin using hearing aids earlier in the progression of their hearing loss tend to experience better cognitive function compared to those who delay seeking treatment.

Addressing hearing loss as soon as it becomes noticeable can help minimise the detrimental effects on cognitive abilities and enhance overall cognitive health in the long term.

Additional Interventions to Improve Cognitive Function

While hearing aids can have a positive impact on cognition, incorporating other interventions can further support cognitive health in older adults.

Adopting A Healthy Lifestyle

Poorer physical health is connected to cognitive decline and hearing loss. Cardiovascular risk factors, inflammation, and oxidative stress associated with poor health can contribute to hearing impairment and cognitive function.

Reduced physical activity levels also contribute to cognitive decline and increased risk of hearing loss. A modifiable risk factor like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor nutrition further compound these issues.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, managing cardiovascular health, and seeking appropriate medical care can help mitigate the risk of cognitive decline and hearing loss. Regular check-ups with healthcare professionals are essential for monitoring and addressing these concerns.

Cognitive Assessments

A cognitive test measures various aspects of cognitive function, including memory, attention, language, problem-solving, and executive functions, providing insights into an individual’s cognitive abilities and potential impairments.

To support the positive effects of hearing aid use, it is important that elderly adults train their cognitive ability. This includes memory tests, visual learning, attention and focus training, executive function training, computerised cognitive training and multimodal lifestyle interventions.

These interventions work synergistically with hearing aids to promote brain health, enhance cognitive function, and potentially mitigate cognitive decline.

Contact ACE Audiology Today

It is important to note that research in this field is ongoing, and further studies are needed to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between hearing aid use and cognition in older adults. Nonetheless, the available evidence suggests that treating hearing loss with hearing aids can have a significant difference on cognitive function and overall quality of life.

If you or someone you know has self reported hearing loss, consult one of our audiologists at ACE Audiology to explore appropriate interventions and hearing treatment options. Get in touch with us today. 


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