A study by The University of Texas at El Paso provides scientific evidence demonstrating that hearing aids, in addition to helping individuals regain hearing, improve brain function in those with hearing loss.
Jamie Desjardins, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the speech-language pathology program at The University of Texas at El Paso, studied a group of individuals in their 50s and 60s with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss who had previously never used hearing aids. Subjects took cognitive tests to measure their working memory, selective attention, and processing speed abilities prior to and after using the hearing aids.
After two weeks of hearing aid use, tests revealed an increase in scores for recalling words in working memory and selective attention tests, and the processing speed at which participants selected the correct response was faster. By the end of the study, participants exhibited significant improvement in their cognitive function.
“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,” Desjardins explained. “You may actually be using the majority of your cognitive resources in order to figure out that message.”
Hearing loss, if left untreated, can lead to serious emotional and social consequences, reduced job performance, and diminished quality of life. Untreated hearing loss can also interfere with cognitive abilities because so much effort is put toward understanding speech. Unfortunately, as people age, basic cognitive skills – working memory, the ability to pay attention to a speaker in a noisy environment, or the ability to process information quickly – also begin to decline.
“Thinking about somebody who is still working and they’re not wearing hearing aids,” Desjardins explained. “They are spending so much of their brainpower just trying to focus on listening that 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.”
Hearing loss affects more than 9 million Americans over the age of 65 and 10 million Americans ages 45 to 64. According to Desjardins, although most people will experience hearing loss in their lifetime, only about 20% of those who actually need hearing aids wear them.
Source: The University of Texas at El Paso