Untreated hearing loss is linked to a number of emotional problems and health conditions, including social withdrawal, feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety and cognitive decline. Unfortunately, only one in five people who could benefit from hearing aids actually wears them. Recent research shows that wearing hearing aids has benefits not just for hearing, but also for improving brain function, in particular memory and speech.
Motivation for Research
Research shows that as we age, our basic cognitive skills such as working memory, the ability to pay attention to speech in background noise and the ability to process information begins to decline.
Dr. Jamie Desjardins, assistant professor of speech-language pathology at the University of Texas, El Paso, sought to uncover how wearing hearing aids affects cognitive abilities of people with hearing loss.
According to Desjardins, “If you have some hearing impairment and you’re not using hearing aids, maybe you can figure out what the person has said, but that comes with a cost… You may actually be using the majority of your cognitive resources – your brain power – in order to figure out that message.”
About the Study
Desjardins and her research team studied a group of hearing loss patients in their 50s and 60s who had never worn hearing aids previously. All subjects had bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, meaning their loss was caused by nerve damage and occurred in both ears.
Each participant underwent cognitive testing before and after wearing hearing aids. Tests measured working memory, selective attention and processing speed.
After just two weeks of hearing aid use, the tests revealed an increase in percent scores for recalling words in working memory, improved scores for selective attention tests and faster processing speeds for selecting correct responses.
In other words, participants exhibited significant improvement in cognitive function.
Why This Matters
Desjardins explained, “Most people will experience hearing loss in their lifetime… Think about somebody who is still working and they’re not wearing hearing aids and they are spending so much of their brainpower just trying to focus on listening.”
“They may not be able to perform their job as well. Or if they can, they’re exhausted because they are working so much harder. They are more tired at the end of the day and it’s a lot more taxing. It affects their quality of life,” she continued.
Fortunately, the results of this study indicate that the use of hearing aids can reverse these effects, allowing people to live a greater quality of life with better focus and improved communicative abilities.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Audiology Center Northwest today.