A study involving 100 older adults (aged 80-99) with hearing loss has found that those who used a hearing aid performed significantly better on a cognitive test (MMSE) than those who didn't use a hearing aid, despite having poorer hearing. Among non-users, participants with more hearing loss had lower MMSE scores than those with better hearing.
In the MMSE, participants give vocal responses to verbal commands. Executive function was also assessed with the Trail Making Test, Part B, which doesn't have a verbal or auditory component. On this test, although hearing aid users performed better than non-users, the difference was not statistically significant. Nor were scores correlated with hearing level.
The finding suggests that hearing loss is associated with sensory-specific cognitive decline rather than global cognitive impairment.
Of the 100 participants, 34 regularly used a hearing aid.
Previous studies have found hearing loss is associated with greater cognitive decline in older adults. A physician recently told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that as much as 36% of dementia risk might be attributable to hearing impairment, and urged that doctors treat age-related hearing impairment more seriously.
The finding supports the view that use of hearing aids for the hearing impaired may help keep them more socially engaged, thus preventing or slowing the progression of cognitive decline and the development of dementia.
More than half of adults over age 75 have hearing loss, yet less than 15% of the hearing impaired use a hearing aid.