Health Benefits of Treating Hearing Loss

OVERVIEW

Treating hearing loss is very good for your health!  Emerging scientific evidence raises alarming concerns of the serious health impacts of untreated hearing loss.   But, there is lots of good news too.  Appropriate treatment works!  (See the annotated references with links to the studies below this Overview.)

Primary care doctors and others concerned with the general health of patients should become informed of the strong correlations that hearing loss has with other acute health conditions. The evidence indicates that treating hearing loss appropriately extends life and significantly improves health.   Here is a summary of some comorbidities hearing loss is associated with:

  • Early onset dementia – up to 5X greater risk [hearing aids used correctly shown to attenuate this higher risk]
  • Accelerated shrinkage of brain tissue observed by MRI scans
  • Psychological ‘disturbances’ are four times greater among the hearing loss
  • 3X greater risk of falling:
    • CDC says falls are chief reason for hospitalization among seniors
    • Hearing aids shown to improve balance
  • Cardiovascular disease, e.g., heart attacks
  • Cerebrovascular disease, e.g., strokes
  • Diabetes:  21% of diabetics have hearing loss; compared to only 9% of non-diabetics have hearing loss

The importance of routine hearing testing and accessing necessary treatment for hearing loss is indisputable.

Hearing Loss and the Brain

25-Year Study Following 3,670 People Found Wearing Hearing Aids Improved Brain Health [1]

Use of hearing aids when coordinated with appropriate services appears to help people with hearing loss keep their brain healthy longer with aging and functioning at higher levels.

This 25-year study was published in the  Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. It found that people with hearing loss who used hearing aids had healthier brain functioning.  People that relied on hearing aids to treat hearing loss tested as well on cognitive skills as people without any hearing loss.  Study participants with hearing problems who did not use hearing aids had more rapid declines in cognitive functioning with aging. This result matched earlier research that found patients with hearing loss are up to 5 times more likely to develop dementia (see below).

This finding is very important because previous research established a link between hearing loss and dementia, accelerated shrinkage of brain tissue, and lower test scores of cognitive skills.  This new research found that correctly wearing hearing aids attenuated the risk.  In other words, brain health for people with no hearing loss was comparable to brain health for the people with hearing loss that accessed hearing care treatment.

Authors of the study also concluded that hearing aid use should be coordinated with aural rehabilitation for patients to obtain optimal benefits from using hearing aids.

COMMENT:  Some promoters of hearing devices are quick to say that the research proves wearing hearing aids keeps the brain healthy and attenuates the risk of dementia. Hearing Partnership™ underscores that research consistently emphasizes the importance of helping patients reach both hearing technology and hearing rehabilitation goals in conjunction.  Addressing community and social dimensions of hearing and communication for people with hearing loss is crucial for patients to obtain optimal benefit from treatment.

Link to dementia

An 18 year study following 639 subjects as part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging found that, “Controlling for age, medical risk factors, diabetes, hypertension, we found that people who began with hearing loss had a greater incidence of dementia.” [2]   Dr. Frank Lin and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins point out persons with hearing loss display losses in cognitive functioning three years sooner than the general population. If hearing aid use can close that gap and delay declines in cognitive functioning among the hearing impaired, the savings to the health care system could run into the billions.   [NOTE: A 25-year longitudinal study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, online October 20, 2015 - see above - found people with hearing loss that used hearing aids performed as well on tests of cognitive skills as people with no hearing loss.]

Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Loss of Brain Tissue

Although the brain becomes smaller with age for everyone, brain tissue shrinkage is more rapid in people with hearing loss according to the results of a study by researchers from Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging. [3]

Psychological ‘disturbances’ are four times greater among the hearing loss as compared to the general population; Two-thirds of those with hearing loss report severe social and emotional handicaps on tests of psychological functioning; Patterns of depression seem to correlate with the progression of sensorineural hearing loss. [4]

Hearing Loss and Injuries from Falling

Hearing loss is associated with falling. A study led by a Johns Hopkins researcher suggests that having hearing loss triples the risk of falling down for people in their 40s and later. [5] The findings are regardless of whether the hearing loss is moderate or severe. To determine whether hearing loss and falling are connected, Frank Lin, MD, PhD, at Johns Hopkins, and his colleague Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PhD, of the National Institute on Aging, used data from the 2001 to 2004 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. “One out of three adults (age 65 and older) fall each year and falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries.” [6] Researchers believe the increased incidence of falling among patients with hearing loss stems from decreased awareness of surroundings and the mental distraction that hearing loss has on cognitive functioning.

The Center for Disease Control has estimated that as many as 5.3 million Americans are living with a brain injury, and that a significant head injury occurs about every 21 seconds. In 2010, about 2.5 million emergency department visits, hospitalizations or deaths were associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI). The primary contributing factor for TBIs among adults aged 65 and older is falls. Other contributing events include concussive high pressure waves from explosions and sports-related injuries. [7]

Study finds evidence that using hearing aids improves balance.  Timothy E. Hullar, MD, FACS at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, published a study that suggests using hearing aids may improve balance and help patients avoid injuries from falls. See the Washington University article “Hearing aids may improve balance” – December 11, 2014.  The original report, “The effect of hearing aids on postural stability” was first published online, October 24, 2014 and can be found in The Laryngoscope, Volume 125, Issue 3, pages 720–723, March 2015.

Heart Disease and Strokes

Low-frequency hearing loss is associated with higher occurrence of cardiovascular disease.  A study, published in The Laryngoscope, also found that hearing loss correlates strongly with cerebrovascular and peripheral arterial disease, and a hearing loss finding may represent a screening test for those at risk. Researchers strongly recommend that patients with low-frequency hearing loss be considered at risk for cardiovascular events, and appropriate referrals considered.  The finding is supported by a sizable body of data collected for more than six decades. [http://www.betterhearing.org/news/heart-disease-and-hearing-loss-linked-so-get-your-hearing-checked-world-heart-day-bhi-advises]

Cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, cause 17.3 million deaths each year.

Diabetes and Hearing Loss

Research found hearing loss twice as common among people with diabetes compared to people with no diabetes.  Among the 86 million Americans with prediabetes, hearing loss is 30% more frequent than among people with normal blood glucose. [http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/seniors/diabetes-and-hearing-loss.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/]

NOTES

[1] bit.ly/1RCnDHP Self-Reported Hearing Loss, Hearing Aids, and Cognitive Decline in Elderly Adults: A 25-Year Study, Helene Amieva, PhD, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, online October 20, 2015.  See also, Hearing aids may slow mental decline in hard-of-hearing elderly” http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-elderly-hearing-aids-idUSKCN0SU2D920151105

[2] “Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia,” by Frank B. Lin, Jeffrey Metter, Richard J. O’Brien, Susan M. Resnick, Allan B. Zondermann, and Luigi Ferrucci, Archives of Neurology, February 2011.

[3] “Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss”, Johns Hopkins Medicine, January 22, 2014,http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_accelerated_brain_tissue_loss_

[4] “Quality-of-Life Changes and Hearing Impairment. A Randomized Trial,” by C.D. Mulrow et al., Annals of Internal Medicine, 1990

[5]  “Hearing Loss and Falls Among Older Adults in the United States” by Frank R. Lin, MD, PhD and Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PhD, Archives of Internal Medicine, Volume 172, No. 4, Feb 27, 2012, pp 369 ff.  See a summary at: http://www.hearingreview.com/2012/02/johns-hopkins-hearing-loss-triples-risk-for-falling-in-middle-aged-adults-and-elderly/#sthash.8QrPZuml.dpuf

[6] Scholarly articles for Center for Disease Control Falls among older adults: An Overview, 2013

[7] Peter Marincovich, PhD, Recognizing and evaluating head injury-associated hearing loss, January 5, 2015, http://speech-language-pathology-audiology.advanceweb.com/Hearing-Practice-Management/Features/Articles/Hearing-Loss-TBI.aspx?utm_campaign=1436897&utm_content=9567624674&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Emailvision