- Research links older people's use of hearing aids with a lower risk of dementia, depression, anxiety, and dangerous falls.
- Hearing loss can lead to social isolation, which increases the likelihood of developing cognitive difficulties and mood disorders.
- There are hearing aids that are almost invisible, and some devices are very inexpensive.
How hearing aids reduce dementia and anxiety
As we get older, we experience subtle changes in our bodies. It's not that we don't need glasses to read the newspaper or a menu one day and the next. For most signs of aging, the changes are gradual. Therefore, when there is a gradual decrease in our hearing, it may be easier to deny ourselves that it has happened. However, when this happens, it's important to face reality and do something about it, as new research shows that hearing aid use can help us prevent other serious medical conditions that may appear in our final years.
The study, which was conducted at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, found that the elderly were less at risk of developing dementia, depression, anxiety, and injuries from falling when they started wearing a hearing aid. These results are based on a study that analyzed data from a Medicare HMO for 114,862 people aged 66 and over from 2008 to 2016. This type of insurance differs from traditional Medicare plans in that it partially covers the cost of hearing aids.
Each subject's medical records were reviewed one year prior to the diagnosis of hearing loss and three years afterwards to ensure that only new cases of dementia, depression, anxiety and fall injuries were treated and that existing cases were excluded. During this three-year period after receiving a hearing loss diagnosis, participants who received hearing aids were found to be 18 percent less at risk of dementia, 13 percent less at risk of injury from falls, and 11 percent less at risk of dementia from depression or anxiety.
Hearing loss takes a significant toll
Why should hearing loss possibly contribute to seemingly unrelated problems like dementia, depression, and falls? With dementia, many people who cannot hear properly often become more withdrawn and isolated. As the brain is less stimulated by social connectivity, nerve impulses slow down and memory decreases.
As for depression and anxiety, it seems again that the problem is largely due to the social withdrawal that many older people with hearing loss experience. The more time you spend alone, the greater your depression and / or anxiety becomes. A 2014 study at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland found an association between hearing loss and higher rates of moderate to severe depression. The risk of falling also increases with increasing hearing loss, as the inner ear plays an essential role in maintaining balance. However, the problem is made worse by the fact that only about 12 percent of the elderly will actually receive hearing aids when they are diagnosed with hearing loss.
Prevent and manage hearing loss
By the age of 65, approximately 33 percent of Americans have some degree of hearing loss. If your hearing is still completely intact – and you know it from an audiological assessment – that's great, but you have to do everything possible to protect it. One of the main causes of hearing loss is exposure to loud noises. It can arise not only from expected sources such as the high decibel values at a concert, but also from everyday situations such as work (e.g. in construction) and listening to music too loudly through headphones or even regularly walking around a busy city. Buy earplugs to prevent loud noises around you from damaging sensitive nerve cells in your ears.
If you already have hearing loss, getting a diagnosis is not enough. Consider equipping yourself for a hearing aid. There is a wide range of models and many are very discreet. If your insurance doesn't cover the cost and is outside your price range, look for an over the counter sound amplification device. While these may not be as discreet, they can be very effective and help prevent dementia, mood disorders, and falls, all of which are linked to hearing loss.