Some individuals’ cognitive deterioration may be slowed by hearing aids

How Hearing Aids Can Help Prevent Cognitive Decline in Some People

Amid the focus on expensive therapies targeting amyloid for Alzheimer’s disease, a new clinical study highlights an alternative approach to combat dementia – by improving the accessibility of hearing aids.

Published in The Lancet, a randomized clinical trial provides the first direct clinical evidence that treating hearing loss could slow cognitive decline, which precedes the onset of dementia.

The ACHIEVE trial, involving approximately 1,000 people aged 70 to 84 with untreated hearing loss and no cognitive impairment at the start, did not show a significant reduction in cognitive decline over three years for the entire patient cohort.

However, the study observed a slower rate of cognitive decline in an older, less healthy population at higher risk of dementia, particularly those with a history of cardiovascular disease. Among this subcategory, which experienced nearly three times higher rates of cognitive decline, those who received a hearing aid had a 48% slower rate of decline, as suggested by neurocognitive testing at the trial’s end.

The researchers acknowledge that achieving the same level of protective benefit in a real-world setting may be challenging, and they plan to follow patients for a longer duration to assess the lasting benefits.

“These results provide compelling evidence that treating hearing loss is a powerful tool to protect cognitive function in later life, and possibly, over the long term, delay a dementia diagnosis. But any cognitive benefits of treating age-related hearing loss are likely to vary depending on an individual’s risk of cognitive decline.” 

– Prof Frank Lin of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

These findings offer essential clinical evidence supporting the hypothesis that addressing hearing issues in older individuals and ensuring the availability of hearing aid devices could be an effective public health strategy in tackling the escalating problem of dementia.

“The background is that hearing loss from midlife is recognised as a major independent risk factor for developing dementia in later years, so the big question is whether hearing interventions help to slow down cognitive decline and prevent dementia. While the overall effect of hearing aid use was “a little disappointing” , supporting people who are at higher risk of dementia with interventions like hearing aids “is important and likely to be effective”.

– Prof Tom Dening of the University of Nottingham

Alzheimer’s Research UK also praised the study’s results and has urged the UK government to incorporate hearing checks into the existing free NHS Health Check provided to individuals aged over 40.

“We know that dementia is not an inevitable part of aging, and while we work towards a cure, it is important to understand what we can do to protect our brain health. “People who are concerned about hearing loss should speak to a healthcare professional – options to preserve hearing may have additional benefits of protecting their brain health.”

– Dr Susan Kohlhaas, charity’s head of research and partnerships

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