What if there were one small device that, if worn, could help seniors avoid falling, slow the onset of depression, and even reduce the risk of being diagnosed with dementia? According to recent research described in this story recently published on the MarketWatch website, there is. It’s called a hearing aid. As the article’s author, Leslie Albrecht, writes, “One small device can make a big difference in the lives of older people, but few of them get the helpful gadget, a new study suggests.”
Study Shows Wearing a Hearing Aid Lowers Dementia Risk by 18 Percent
This is by no means the first study to show a link between untreated hearing loss and serious conditions among seniors including falling, depression, and cognitive decline. But it is one of the largest, involving the insurance data from 115,000 Michigan residents. The results of the study, just printed in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, were striking, and encouraging. “People age 66 and older who got a hearing aid shortly after being diagnosed with hearing loss were less likely to receive a first-time diagnosis of dementia or depression, or be injured by falling, in the following three years,” MarketWatch reports. Those who got hearing aids experienced an 18 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with dementia, an 11 percent reduction in depression diagnosis, and a 13 percent lower likelihood of injury in a fall.
The Michigan study confirms earlier findings from researchers across the country, including data described in this article from Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Hearing loss is frustrating for those who have it and for their loved ones, the report says. “But recent research from Johns Hopkins reveals that it also is linked with walking problems, falls and even dementia.” The article describes a study tracking 639 adults for nearly 12 years, during which Johns Hopkins researchers found that “mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk. Moderate loss tripled risk, and people with a severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia.” Doctors aren’t certain why this connection exists, but some believe (according to brain scans of affected adults) that hearing loss accelerates brain atrophy. “Hearing loss also contributes to social isolation,” says Hopkins researcher Dr. Frank Lin. “You may not want to be with people as much, and when you are you may not engage in conversation as much. These factors may contribute to dementia.”
People Avoid Wearing a Hearing Aid Due to Cost, Comfort, Appearance
Researchers around the world have confirmed the correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Just last month Reuters reported on a Taiwanese study of 16,000 adults which showed that those diagnosed with hearing loss between the ages of 45 and 65 were twice as likely to suffer from dementia within the ensuing twelve years. Study authors called hearing loss “a potential reversible risk factor for dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.” According to the Reuters article, brain researchers believe that about two thirds of dementia risk genetic, which means about one third of the risk is from things we can control or modify. Among these “modifiable risk factors,” hearing loss accounts for about 9 percent of dementia risk – a figure that makes it even more of a contributor to cognitive decline than better-known culprits such as hypertension, obesity, depression, diabetes and smoking.
But if that’s true, why do so many people with hearing loss avoid getting hearing aids? Statistics vary, but Johns Hopkins data says that nearly 27 million Americans age 50 and older have hearing loss, yet only one in seven of them uses a hearing aid. “People wait an average of 10 years to address their hearing loss,” MarketWatch reports. Some claim they dislike how hearing aids look, or they hate the idea of appearing “old.” There’s also the cost – ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 each, according to the Hearing Industry Association trade group. Basic Medicare doesn’t cover that cost. However, new rules that were passed in 2017 will bring over-the-counter hearing aids to the market soon, potentially driving down costs significantly. (This AARP article provides some helpful background info concerning OTC hearing aids, which are designed to remedy mild to moderate hearing loss.)
Do Your Family a Favor and Deal With Hearing Loss
For us here at AgingOptions, the lesson from articles like these is clear: you owe it to yourself and your family to deal with your hearing loss. We recognize that technology in and of itself can’t solve all our problems, but this is one case where digital tech can have far-reaching benefits. One first step, if you’re an older adult, is to seek out the services of a geriatrician for your primary health care needs. Well-trained in the particular needs of seniors, a board-certified geriatrician will take the time to get to know you and to listen to you. Then he or she will make sure your hearing is fully evaluated. Your geriatrician will also guide you into a health care regimen that’s individually tailored for you – just the opposite of an impersonal plan prescribed by a faceless digital assistant.
When it comes to retirement planning, the individualized, personalized approach is always the best. Here at AgingOptions we recommend a strategy called LifePlanning, an approach that blends all the essential elements of a comprehensive retirement plan into one carefully crafted document. Everything in your LifePlan fits together interdependently: finances, legal matters, housing desires, medical protection, and family communication. That’s the genius of an AgingOptions LifePlan. To find out more, without cost or obligation, we invite you to join Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. For a calendar of currently scheduled seminars, visit our Live Events page and register online for the seminar of your choice – or, if you prefer, give us a call during the week. Age on!
(originally reported at www.marketwatch.com)