In the United States alone, as many as 5.2 million people aged 65 and/or older are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, and these numbers are expected to rise with an ageing population, according to experts. Scientists believe that keeping older people engaged and active by adopting the devices can be a productive way to significantly reduce age-related cognitive decline. While keeping engaged won’t completely cure someone suffering, it was the only proven medical point that doctors could enforce – until now.
After following the progress of a study that involved an incredible 2,040 individuals between 1996 and 2014, researchers asked those who participated to complete word memory tests at various stages while monitoring the rate of decline before and after getting a hearing aid. The research team found that while the aids did not halt or reverse cognitive decline, they slowed it down by three-quarters, meanwhile in a separate group of 2,068 individuals, participants who underwent cataract surgery, decline slowed by around half.
Frank Lin, author of the study described his research at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington DC, stating “I’m asking how can our peripheral functions, namely hearing, affect our central functions – our brain,” he asked. “Unfortunately this question is completely unknown. This trial has never been done.” According to Lin, the prevalence of hearing loss doubles for every decade of life, and that its high frequency has led physicians to dismiss it too often without a second thought on the matter. “The vast majority of dementias in late life are multifactorial,” said Lin, “but the role of hearing loss has just not been studied.” Lin also estimated that as much as a 36% of dementia’s risk to it’s patients are attributable to hearing impairment and damage, though Lin also admitted that theoretically, estimating it needs more testing before coming to an affirmative conclusion.
The team behind a study at the University of Manchester in the UK also said that the strength of the association between hearing aids, cataract surgery and mental deterioration meant that policy makers should consider hearing and sight loss screening for all older adults, who are seemingly at a higher risk of being affected.
Dr Piers Dawes said “These studies underline just how important it is to overcome the barriers which deny people from accessing hearing and visual aids.
He continued, “It’s not really certain why hearing and visual problems have an impact on cognitive decline, but I’d guess that isolation, stigma and the resultant lack of physical activity that are linked to hearing and vision problems might have something to do with it and there are barriers to overcome – people might not want to wear hearing aids because of stigma attached to wearing them, or they feel the amplification is not good enough or they’re not comfortable.”
According to research and a charity by the name of The Charity Action on Hearing Loss, the number of people in total (in Britain) who are suffering hearing problems will rise by 40 percent by 2035 alone, and then rapidly increase with ageing population. The charity Action on Hearing Loss also believes that the number of people suffering from the difficulties the disease can bring will rise from one in six to one in five. The charity also recently called for more investment in treatment and research into hearing loss in order to assist further in the future.