Hearing impairment is a major health issue affecting millions of Americans. Although largely untreated, hearing impairment impacts 30% of adults over age 65 and between 70% and 90% of adults aged 85 and older.1,2 Hearing impairment prevalence will most likely increase given the population projections of roughly 100 million people aged 65 and older by 2060.3
A recent article published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society demonstrates a decrease in cognitive decline among adults living in the United States after they began using hearing aids.4 Over 2,000 adults aged 50 and older were studied using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). The major finding was that cognitive declined slowed down by 75% after correcting for hearing loss using this intervention.
Although this finding may not be shocking, it is surprising that such a large number of study participants experienced substantially slower cognitive decline after beginning to use hearing aids. Further, these findings are based on longitudinal data between the years of 1996 to 2014, meaning there is strong evidence to believe that hearing loss has a causal relationship with cognitive decline and dementia.
So, what does this mean for the general public? Older adults thought to be struggling with dementia may in fact be struggling with a hearing impairment. Adopting assistive hearing devices sooner to help decrease hearing impairments may help reduce the rise of dementia across the world. While hearing aids can be prohibitively expensive for many older adults or long-term care providers, other assistive hearing products provide more affordable and accessible options.
Hearing impairment can have serious health consequences for older adults, like loneliness and social isolation. Giving people new technology to help them maintain their hearing may help reduce social isolation and feelings of loneliness. Engaging older adults by using an assistive hearing device, may allow for some people to engage more successfully and meaningfully.