Editor’s note: This post was updated February 9, 2015, to reflect a revised news release issued by Unitron on February 5, replacing its original release of January 29.
PLYMOUTH, MN—For several years, scientists have been aware of evidence that seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing. But what has not been known is if seniors with dementia who get treatment for their hearing loss can improve their cognitive abilities and thereby improve their quality of life.
Now, early findings from a study being conducted by researchers at Unitron and at the University of North Texas suggest that the quality of life is improved in impaired listeners diagnosed with moderate dementia by treating hearing loss with hearing aids, as well as the quality of life of the caregiver.
A February 5th announcement from Unitron, a hearing aid manufacturer that is part of the Sonova Group, reported on work being conducted by Amyn M. Amlani, PhD, associate professor of speech and hearing sciences at the University of North Texas, and Brian Taylor, AuD, director of practice development and clinical affairs at Unitron.
According to the announcement, Amlani and Taylor “have already been able to show an improvement in cognitive ability among participants using hearing aids, suggesting new therapeutic potential for the devices.” Unitron added, “If conclusive, the findings could enhance the role of hearing healthcare professionals in rehabilitating patients diagnosed with cognitive decline in relation to his or her hearing.”
The research, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year, involves patients aged 50 to 90 with moderate dementia who are inexperienced with amplification devices. The study measures their speech-recognition performance in noise, cognition, and self-reported improvements in quality of life.
Amlani, who holds a master’s in audiology and a doctorate in psychoacoustics, said that the study “looks at whether improved hearing can improve cognitive functioning for people who have already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. In particular,” he added, “we want to understand whether better hearing can play a role in helping people with dementia lead more active and engaged lives, particularly if hearing loss is identified and treated early.”
Taylor noted, “Given the expected sharp increase in dementia cases over the next few decades, our findings could have significant implications for aging individuals as they begin experiencing hearing loss.”
Taylor, who has some 25 years of experience in audiology practice management, added that the study is part of Unitron’s focus on “providing solutions for healthcare providers so they can better serve their patients, and get them the treatment they need.”
One such solution was provided in a second announcement February 2, in which Unitron announced a partnership with Barbara E. Weinstein, professor and founding executive officer of the Doctor of Audiology Program (Au.\D) at CUNY. A new “Hearing Healthcare Toolkit for Use in Primary and Geriatric Care,” created by Weinstein and Brian Taylor AuD, is designed to help physicians better screen patients for hearing loss and break down the barriers preventing them from getting the help they need.
“Primary-care physicians typically serve as gatekeepers for individuals who may be hearing impaired,” says Weinstein. “In many instances they do not recognize the profound physical, cognitive and emotional consequences of untreated hearing loss, which might initially be perceived as less urgent than other health concerns.”
Hearing healthcare professionals may download the toolkit free of charge from Unitron‘s web site. The site also includes a downloadable guide for using the toolkit and a customizable cover letter that hearing healthcare professionals can send to physicians along with the toolkit.