A recent online study conducted by the University of Exeter and King’s College London has found that individuals who wear hearing aids to correct age-related hearing loss may ultimately achieve better brain function. Known as PROTECT, this study adds to recent findings by both the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care as well as the National Health Insurance Research Database of Taiwan that show that hearing loss is among the key risk factors for developing dementia.
For the study, researchers at the two institutions looked at 25,000 participants aged 50 years and older. The scientists performed annual cognitive tests for two years, examining both those participants who wore hearing aids as well as a control group who did not. Their findings revealed that individuals who wore hearing aids achieved better performances on tests designed to evaluate working memory and attention as compared to those who did not wear hearing devices.
Researchers further found that the study participants with hearing devices had quicker reaction times, typically held to be a proxy for concentration.
According to PROTECT lead researcher Dr. Anne Corbett, “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.”
University of Exeter Medical School professor Clive Ballard concurred, stating that “this is an early finding and needs more investigation, yet it has exciting potential…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.”
While additional clinical trials and research will be needed to fully validate the study’s results, the researchers’ finding provide significant promise for those examining how to prevent and reduce dementia. PROTECT’s findings were released almost concurrently with those of the National Health Insurance Research Database of Taiwan researchers, which revealed in JAMA Network Open earlier this month that their 13-year study found that in people aged 45 to 64, the risk of dementia was twice as large for those with hearing loss as for those without.