Treating hearing loss with hearing aids was associated with a decline in mortality risk, a new study showed.
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Your health resolutions for the new year may need to include getting checked for hearing aids.
Wearing hearing aids if you need them may help protect you from early death, according to a new study published Wednesday in The Lancet Healthy Longevity journal.
“What we found was that there was a 24% lower risk of mortality for people who use hearing aids,” said Dr. Janet Choi, an assistant professor of clinical otolaryngology-head and neck surgery with the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and an otolaryngologist with Keck Medicine of USC.
The study looked at the data of 10,000 people — more than 1,800 of whom were identified as having hearing loss — and followed up on their mortality between 1999 and 2012.
Some 237 of those with hearing loss reported using hearing aids at least once a week, whereas 1,483 reported never using hearing devices, according to the research.
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There was no difference in risk of death over the research period between people who used hearing aids occasionally and those who never wore them, but regular users were at a significantly lower risk, the study showed.
And that mortality risk was lower for hearing aid users regardless of factors such as age, ethnicity, income, education, medical history and degree of hearing loss, according to the study.
About 30 million people ages 12 and older in the United States have hearing loss in both ears, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
But only about 15% of those who could benefit from hearing aids are using them, according to the author of an April study.
“The (new) study underscores the critical role of addressing modifiable risk factors not just for immediate health benefits but as a potent strategy for enhancing overall longevity and well-being,” Dr. Thomas Holland, physician scientist at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging, said via email. Holland was not involved in the research.
Fortunately, self-fitting, over-the-counter hearing aids are now available, and the April study shows they may be just as effective as those fitted from by an audiologist.
Why hearing aids are so helpful
The latest study adds more support to the understanding that hearing loss and longevity are connected, but there are still questions about why that is, Choi said.
“This is an association study. We didn’t really particularly look at the mechanism behind these associations,” she said.
But there are some hypotheses as to why the association between hearing aids and longevity exists.
Previous studies have shown a connection between hearing loss and frailty, and there is evidence that untreated hearing loss could affect social isolation and declines in physical activity and cognitive function, Choi said.
“There are also some studies showing that the auditory deprivation itself — not getting enough sound — can have negative impact on brain structures,” she added.
A possible connection with dementia
Hearing aids could also mean a lowered dementia risk, according to a study published Thursday in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.
The study looked at data from more than 500,000 people 50 years of age or older in southern Denmark and followed up on their health between 2003 and 2017.
Those with hearing loss were at a 7% greater risk of developing dementia, according to the study. And the risk was even higher (14%) in those with hearing loss who did not use hearing aids compared with those who did.
The large and well-conducted study is just part of an expanding body of evidence that hearing loss and dementia are connected, but there are still questions about whether that is causation or correlation, said Dr. Jason Warren, professor of neurology and consultant neurologist at University College London Queen Square Institute of Neurology.
“Studies of this kind should be interpreted with care — the brain changes associated with early dementia can affect hearing potentially some years before dementia is diagnosed,” Warren said. “We should therefore be cautious about inferring that hearing loss causes dementia or that dementia can be prevented by wearing hearing aids.”
The growing body of research shows that if you are noticing a difference in your hearing, you should go get checked, Choi said.
Hearing loss should not be “counted as something related to (a) normal part of aging and there’s nothing that they need to do about it,” she added. “There’ll be even more studies coming out that will show that hearing aids are helpful and they have positive impact. And we all know that at the end of the day, it really helps with patients’ communication and quality of life.”
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If you do have hearing loss, at least try out hearing aids, especially with the significant improvements in technology, Choi said.
“A lot of people are not using hearing aids because they don’t want to look older,” she added. “They don’t want to be associated with disability, but it really doesn’t have to be that way.”
It is important to be proactive when it comes to addressing health risks, especially when they are as easily modifiable as wearing hearing aids, Holland said.
Work closely with your doctors and stay on top of checkups while monitoring your sleep, exercise, nutrition, alcohol intake, blood pressure and blood sugar for a longer, healthy life, he added.
“By fostering a partnership with your healthcare provider and adopting a lifestyle that prioritizes these factors, you empower yourself to build a robust foundation for long-lasting well-being and vitality,” Holland said.
Clarification: This story was updated to clarify the source of the percentage of people who use hearing aids.
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