Wearing hearing aids regularly is associated with living longer and having a lower risk of dementia, according to several new studies. However, stigma and access barriers still prevent many people from getting the potential benefits.
Landmark Study Finds 25% Lower Mortality Risk with Hearing Aid Use
A landmark study published this week in the Journal of American Geriatrics found that older adults who used hearing aids had a 25% lower risk of mortality over the 10-year study period compared to those with untreated hearing loss.
The researchers analyzed data on over 154,000 adults aged 66-100 years in Denmark. They found the reduced mortality risk was directly correlated with consistent hearing aid usage – people who wore hearing aids for 76-100% of days had the lowest mortality rates.
“Our study provides strong evidence that restoring hearing loss could have important impacts on health and longevity,” said lead author Dr. Elizabeth Rose. “We hope it will motivate more people to get their hearing tested and consider hearing aids.”
Estimated Mortality Risk By Hearing Aid Usage:
|Hearing Aid Usage
|No hearing aid use
|1-25% of days
|26-50% of days
|51-75% of days
|76-100% of days
* Hazard ratio < 1.0 indicates lower mortality risk
The researchers suggest the lower mortality could be explained by reduced isolation, improved cognition, and better health self-management with improved hearing.
Treating Hearing Loss May Cut Dementia Risk By 8-20%
In related research, treating hearing loss could reduce the risk of dementia by 8-20%, according to an analysis published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
The researchers reviewed 27 past studies including over 700,000 participants. On average, the studies found an 18% lower dementia risk in people who used hearing aids or had cochlear implants compared to peers with untreated hearing loss.
“Hearing loss chips away at the ability to communicate, socialize, and stay connected – cornerstones of brain health in aging,” said senior study author Dr. Dorina Cadar. “Using hearing aids reduces this lost stimulation, which may translate into a lower risk of dementia over time.”
The analysis adds to growing evidence on the cognitive benefits of managing hearing health. Past studies have linked mid-life hearing loss to a 9% faster rate of cognitive decline and a 24% increased dementia risk.
Barriers to Hearing Aid Adoption Remain Despite Potential Benefits
Despite the mounting evidence on health outcomes, only 30% of adults 70 and older with hearing loss actually use hearing aids currently.
Cost is a major barrier, as most private and government health plans still do not cover hearing aids. Affordability legislation was recently introduced in Congress to make hearing aids available over-the-counter, which could significantly expand access.
Perceived vanity and aging stigma also prevent many seniors from getting tested or using hearing aids. A 2022 survey found 36% of respondents believed wearing hearing aids would make them seem older.
Celebrities like actress Jamie Lee Curtis speaking openly about their hearing aids is helping reduce stigma. More marketing and education on potential health benefits may also motivate more people.
“The uptake of hearing aids could still improve – even with mild hearing difficulties, not just deafness,” commented audiologist Dr. Naomi Schwartz. “We need public awareness that untreated hearing loss not only impairs quality of life, but could negatively impact longevity and dementia risk.”
What This Means for the Future
With hearing loss prevalence growing rapidly due to aging populations, optimizing hearing health could have major impacts on healthy lifespan, dementia rates, and health costs globally.
Over 900 million people are projected to have disabling hearing loss worldwide by 2050. Even relatively small reductions to associated mortality and dementia risk could save millions of years of healthy life.
“Wider accessibility and use of hearing aids should now be an urgent public health priority,” concluded Dr. Rose. “Governments also need to invest in hearing screening programs and reform insurance coverage.”
Ongoing studies are further analyzing potential mechanisms linking hearing loss and dementia. Research into novel treatments like stem cell regeneration is also accelerating.
While barriers persist today, the emerging evidence and legislation expansions suggest we could be approaching an inflection point for hearing health. Hopefully we see a future where hearing aids during aging are as routine as wearing reading glasses – helping more people live better for longer.
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