Hearing Aid Use and Cognitive Function: Research Continues to Show Mixed Results

November 2, 2015

Several industry press releases last week, including those posted by the Hearing Industries Association (HIA) and the Hearing Review, touted a longitudinal study, published in the October, 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society. The study, authored by a group of researchers at the University of Bordeaux, France, indicated that hearing aid use was associated with reductions in cognitive decline.

The 25-year observational study, which followed 3,670 adults, age 65 and older, found no significant difference in the rate of cognitive decline between a control group of study participants with self-reported normal hearing compared to study participants with self-reported hearing loss who used hearing aids.

Elderly hearing aid users had similar rates of cognitive decline as those with no hearing impairment. On the other hand, untreated hearing loss was associated with lower baseline scores of cognitive function on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE).{{1}}[[1]]A side note that may be interesting to consumers of hearing aid use and cognitive function research: JAMA Internal Medicine published a systematic review and meta-analysis in June, 2015 that evaluated the diagnostic performance of 11 cognitive screening tests. These 11 tests were culled from 149 studies, involving nearly 50,000 participants. The MMSE is the most popular screen of cognitive performance. The combined sensitivity and specificity were 0.81 and 0.89, respectively, which is considered reasonably good.  Among the other ten tests evaluated in the meta-analysis, the Mini-Cog and Addenbrooke’s Cognitive Examination-Revised (ACE-R) had diagnostic performances comparable to the MMSE. The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) also had comparable sensitivity and specificity to the MMSE, but was considered a better screen for mild cognitive impairment.[[1]]


Do Hearing Aids Improve Cognitive Health?


In a similar long-term study, published in the November, 2015 issue of the International Journal of Audiology, Pier Dawes, Karen Cruickshanks and colleagues followed more than 600 adults over an 11-year period. A variety of measures, including hearing handicap, cognition, social engagement and physical health were conducted at baseline, as well as at 5 & 11 years post-baseline. Although results indicated that hearing aids significantly reduced hearing handicap and improved physical health, there were no differences in cognitive performance or the incidence of cognitive impairment between hearing aid users and non-users. Thus, this study does not support a “robust effective of hearing aids as being protective against cognitive decline.”

Even though the results of the studies differ in their outcomes, as it relates to hearing aid use and cognitive function, these two longitudinal, observational studies provide sound evidence that hearing aids may promote better overall general health by reducing hearing handicap and promoting a more active lifestyle.


*title image courtesy flickr

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