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Study Suggests Hearing Aids Lower Cognitive Decline and Mortality Risk

June 3, 2024

By Laurie Hanson

Most people do not hesitate to wear glasses because they can’t read small words or see objects far away, yet most people don’t feel the same about wearing hearing aids.

Hearing experts and patients alike are now seeing how hearing aids can prevent cognitive decline while increasing longevity through greater personal engagement.

Audiologist Natalie Calderon Moultrie, who graduated from a Joint Doctoral Program at SDSU-UCSD, has seen evidence of this in her 10 ½ years of practice.

According to a study released in early 2024 by Dr. Janet Choi, an otolaryngologist at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, adults with hearing loss who regularly use hearing aids have a 24 percent lower mortality risk than adults with hearing loss who never wear hearing aids.

The results strongly suggest hearing aids can protect health and prevent early death. “The lower risk of death may be linked to the benefits that improved hearing provides for a person’s mental health and cognitive function,” Moultrie explained. “Simply improving engagement with an individual’s healthcare team can lead to a better understainding and proper treatment plans.”

A 2023 study from Aging and Cognitive Health Evaluation in Elders (Aging) published in The Lancet found that hearing aids and assistance/counsel from an audiologist can reduce an individual’s risk of dementia and cognitive decline by 48 percent, according to Moultrie.

“Researchers believe this is due to the benefits that improved hearing can bring to a person’s brain function and mental health,” she said. “Individuals with hearing loss often need more cognitive effort to understand speech and process auditory information. This increased cognitive load can lead to mental fatigue, limiting cognitive resources for other tasks, such as memory, attention, and problem-solving.”

“Hearing aids make it easier for individuals with hearing loss to process auditory information,” Moultrie explained. “When sounds are clearer and more audible, the brain does not need to work as hard to interpret speech and environmental sounds, reducing cognitive load.”

The Aging study concluded that hearing intervention could more effectively reduce cognitive decline over three years in older adults at increased risk for cognitive decline compared to those not at risk.

Before that, researchers had known that cognitive decline was linked with hearing loss but did not have research on the link between treatment and mental health,” Moultrie said.

“Anecdotally, I have quite a few patients who have been long-time hearing aid wearers who are still very socially active,” she explained. “Their cognitive health seems less impacted compared to peers of similar age who are not wearing hearing aids.”

Moultrie mentioned that improving communication helps hearing aid users to participate in conversations and social interactions. This can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, which are common challenges for individuals with hearing loss and can have negative effects.

Just look at one of Moultrie’s eldest client who at the age of 103, is still very sharp and cognizant.

“He is an undercover jokester when the hearing aids are on, but without his hearing aids on, he is quiet and withdrawn,” she said. “His hearing aids allow him to stay socially engaged with his family and his care team.”

“I have many patients over 90 years of age and quite a few centurions as well,” Moultrie added. “While I do not believe the hearing aids are the sole factor leading to these long lives, I do believe the ability to remain socially engaged by using the hearing aids plays a significant role.”

“Each patient, as an individual, is a bit different,” she said. “I have some patients at 90+ who are very tech savvy and eager to learn more, and I have others who are averse to the technology yet still socially engaged. Some acclimate to new hearing aids quickly while others may need more time and assistance.”

Moultrie recommends properly fitted prescription hearing aids which meet the patient’s needs over amplifiers as the best option.

Prescription hearing aids must be purchased through a licensed provider like those found at HearUSA. There they have a variety of hearing aids, both prescription and over the counter (OTC), to fit the specific needs of each client.

Tamra Dale, 56, of Glendora is one of her clients. She noticed hearing loss in her early 30’s and has been wearing hearing aids for almost 10 years now. She first noticed her hearing issues watching television.

“The TV always sounded too loud when I turned it on, but when I turned the volume down, I was unable to hear it, leading me to turn it back up,” she said. “That is what brought me to an audiologist for the first time in the 1990’s.”

“Given my age, the first audiologist I saw didn’t believe me– saying that I was too young to have hearing loss,” Dale said. “After demanding a test, my suspicion was confirmed. But I was told there was nothing to be done.

Part of Dale’s persistence in getting help was to better engage with her family. In her career before having her children, she worked in finance as a clerk on a trading floor which exposed her to loud sounds constantly. She also frequently spent hours at the gym wearing headphones exposing her to loud music.

A few years later, she started to receive feedback in smaller group environments that she “wasn’t catching things.” She also started to notice, as a new mom to three kids under 3 years old, that she was struggling to hear sounds that required her attention.

It was by fall of 2023, Dale made a life-changing visit to Dr. Natalie Calderon at HearUSA in Los Angeles to be fit for her now current pair of hearing aids.  

Her hearing aids leveraged AI/machine learning to make automatic adjustments depending on the hearing setting, allowing Dale to avoid a lot of the tampering with settings that she had experienced previously.

“This ‘self-teaching’ makes it so easy for me to be in different environments without fiddling with my phone to change settings,” she said. “I was able to attend my son’s choir concert and hear every voice and sound despite being in a noisy concert hall. It is a major quality-of-life booster.”

“My top priority is being fully present for my children and spouse,” she explained. “If you cannot hear, you cannot communicate and connect – and connecting with my family is the most important thing to me. Now, after many years of trying different solutions, I do not miss things like I used to.”

Dale purchased her current hearing aids out of pocket. Though she had recently purchased hearing aids and was reluctant to invest in a new pair financially, she knew that there was no better investment than staying engaged with the world around her.

“I always tell people to ‘get checked’ so you will not miss out on life,” she explained. “With hearing loss, you do miss a lot and unfortunately people stop engaging with you and you stop engaging with the world. You also put yourself at increased risk for other health issues, so it is imperative to act quickly.”

Looking to the future, Dale wishes hearing care becomes as normalized as eye care.

“People are not generally hesitant or embarrassed to wear glasses, which signals sub-optimal eyesight,” she said. “I hope someday hearing aids have that same level of normalcy. It would make a massive difference in the world.”