Wearing a hearing aid for age-related hearing problems is better for maintaining brain function than not using a device, a new study suggests.
Researchers say their findings provide early evidence that encouraging people to wear an effective hearing aid may help to protect their brains and reduce their risk of dementia.
The research was conducted by the University of Exeter and King’s College London.
In an online study, two groups of people – those who wore aids, and those who did not – undertook annual cognitive tests over two years.
The group who wore hearing aids performed better in measures assessing working memory and aspects of attention than those who did not.
On one attention measure, people who used the devices showed faster reaction times – in everyday terms.
This, scientists say, is a reflection of concentration, for example, straining to hear a sound, peering closely at an object of great interest and listening intently to someone speaking.
Dr Anne Corbett, from the University of Exeter, said: “Previous research has shown that hearing loss is linked to a loss of brain function, memory and an increased risk of dementia.
“Our work is one of the largest studies to look at the impact of wearing a hearing aid, and suggests that wearing a hearing aid could actually protect the brain.
“We now need more research and a clinical trial to test this and perhaps feed into policy to help keep people healthy in later life.”
Professor Clive Ballard, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “The message here is that if you’re advised you need a hearing aid, find one that works for you.
“At the very least it will improve your hearing and it could help keep your brain sharp, too.”
Data was taken from the PROTECT online study of 25,000 people aged 50 or over.
Participation is entirely remote, with participants registering, consenting and completing annual assessments online.
Data presented in this study is taken from baseline, one and two-year assessment points.
From the data available over three years, 4,372 participants reported hearing loss, of whom 1,557 used a hearing aid, and 2,815 did not.
Three-year data was available for 1,001 hearing aid users and 1,792 non hearing aid users.
The poster entitled Use of Hearing Aids in Older Adults with Hearing Loss Is Associated with Improved Cognitive Trajectory was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference Los Angeles.