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23 Sep

New Study Shows Effects of Hearing Aids on Brain Function

Hearing Aids Improve Brain Function

A recent study by Jamie Desjardins, PhD, an assistant professor in the speech-language pathology program at The University of Texas at El Paso, has shown that hearing aids improve the function of the brain in people with hearing loss.

It has been known for many years that untreated hearing loss can lead to emotional and social difficulties, reduced job performance, and a diminished quality of life. Recent research has proven to be more alarming, it has shown that untreated hearing loss can interfere with cognitive abilities.

It is believed that cognitive load is increased in people with untreated hearing loss because so much mental effort is used in an effort to understand speech.

“If you have some hearing impairment and you’re not using hearing aids, maybe you can figure out what the person has said, but that comes with a cost. You may actually be using the majority of your cognitive resources – your brain power – in order to figure out that message.”

J. Desjardins PHD

As people age, cognitive skills like working memory, the ability to pay attention to a speaker in a noisy environment, or the ability to process information rapidly, begin to decline. The study was designed to explore the effects of hearing loss on brain function. The study was undertaken on a group of individuals in their 50s and 60s with bilateral (both ears) sensorineural hearing loss who had never used hearing aids. The study participants took cognitive tests to measure their working memory, selective attention, and processing speed abilities before and after using hearing aids.

Two Weeks Of Hearing Aid Use Showed Improvement

Just two weeks of hearing aid use showed improvements, tests revealed an increase in percent scores for recalling words in working memory and selective attention tests. They also showed an increase in cognitive processing speed, in essence the time for participants to select the correct response was faster. By the end of the study, participants had shown significant improvement in their cognitive function.

“Most people will experience hearing loss in their lifetime,” said Desjardins. “Think about somebody who has hearing loss and is still working and they’re not wearing hearing aids. They are spending so much of their brainpower just trying to focus on listening. They may not be able to perform their job as well. Or if they can, they’re exhausted because they are working so much harder. They are more tired at the end of the day, because it’s a lot more taxing. It affects their quality of life.”

J. Desjardins PHD

This is a very interesting study for us in the profession, we are concerned that untreated hearing loss is connected to neuro cognitive problems like dementia. There is no proven direct connection, but there is enough study data to be concerned about a connection. So the fact that hearing aid use improves cognitive function is both comforting and interesting. 

Our idea of who we are and what we do is beginning to change, once we just identified and treated hearing loss. Then our idea and concept of that expanded to providing holistic solutions for people with hearing issues. Now, we are starting to understand that our treatment may have a direct effect on the cognitive ability of the people we treat. I think this new understanding will mean that our concepts of what we do will expand yet again. I look forward to the advances in technology and holistic solutions that this new understanding brings. 

If you have any questions about any of the issues this article raises, or you would like to book an appointment, please don't hesitate to contact me on 0208 994 6966 or book your appointment online.


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