It has long been known that untreated hearing loss can have emotional and social consequences, but this study showed that cognitive decline can also be a side effect of hearing loss that is untreated. The results of a 2016 a study conducted at The University of Texas at El Paso revealed that use of hearing aids can actually improve brain function for people with hearing loss.
The reason is simple – a certain amount of cognitive function is devoted to comprehending meanings of conversations or sounds. As you age, your basic cognitive skills begin to decline naturally. If extra cognitive bandwidth must be diverted to dissecting sounds and sorting out words and sentences being spoken, there is less bandwidth available for other tasks the brain is expected to accomplish.
The ability to do separate tasks like access working memory, correctly isolate and understand sounds from a speaker while in a noisy environment, or process information from single or multiple sources accurately and quickly can begin to fade, causing an apparent cognitive decline.
When hearing aids are introduced to the equation, the brain power required to sort out the right sounds and make sense of other people's speech is dramatically improved, the cognitive ability previously "assigned" to such tasks can be rerouted to other areas. This can help provide an overall improvement in apparent cognitive ability.
The study followed a group of individuals between the ages of 50 and 70 who had bilateral sensorineural hearing loss but had never used hearing aids. First, the study participants took cognitive tests, then, after two weeks of wearing hearing aids, the tests were repeated. The participants showed significant improvement in cognitive function, from word recall to selective attention to processing speed.
According to the National Institute of Health, nearly 80 percent of Americans who need hearing aids do not use them. Hopefully, studies like the one conducted in El Paso will help educate more people about the advantages of hearing aids to slow cognitive decline as they age.
A study at The University of Texas at El Paso has revealed that use of hearing aids can actually improve brain function for people with hearing loss.