The Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline


Another reason to get that hearing aid: Age-related hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia, an analysis of 40 studies from 12 countries has confirmed.

The analysis linked hearing loss to a modestly increased risk of cognitive impairment and dementia and to declines in all aspects of cognition, including episodic memory and executive function. The findings were published in 2018 in JAMA Otolaryngology.

Possible explanations abound. The two conditions may share an underlying mechanism, such as a decline in the vascular system, or hearing loss may be a marker for general physiological decline and frailty. Hearing loss may also compromise cognitive processes because so much effort is needed to process auditory information. And it often increases social isolation, which is a risk factor for cognitive decline, presumably due to reduced stimulation.

While none of the studies assessed whether hearing aids help protect cognition, the researchers cited other research indicating that the aids may have such benefits in older people who are still cognitively intact, though not in those who already have dementia.

Hearing aids can slow cognitive decline in people who are hearing-impaired, according to a study cited (April 2018 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society) that followed 2,040 people who started using hearing aids over an 18-year period. After the participants began using hearing aids, their memory scores declined more slowly than before using the aids.