Melbourne researchers have found hearing aids could play a significant role in preventing dementia in old age. See how the device can increase brain capacity.
Melbourne researchers have found hearing aids could play a significant role in preventing dementia in old age. See how the device can increase brain capacity.

How hearing aids can delay onset of dementia

Hearing aids may help prevent dementia and increase brain capacity as well as hearing into old age, new Melbourne research suggests.

A study of almost 100 seniors has found almost all who were followed up 18 months after they began using a hearing aid had significant improvement in cognitive function.

While a much larger and longer study is being planned to clarify the results, University of Melbourne researcher Associate Professor Julia Sarant said initial findings suggest hearing aids may have an "enormous improvement" in delaying dementia.

"The problem is massive and we don't know what causes it and we don't have treatment," Prof Sarant said.

"This is a potential treatment that can at least delay cognitive decline and, potentially, dementia.

"And compared to what we are spending on healthcare for older people and aged care, this is a relatively cost-effective solution."

After assessing the brain function and various other health indicators of 99 people aged 62-82 attending the university's audiology clinic, the researchers were able to show a clear link between the severity of a persons' hearing loss and a decline in their cognitive function - backing up results of previous research.

Researchers were able to show a clear link between the severity of a persons’ hearing loss and a decline in their cognitive function.
Researchers were able to show a clear link between the severity of a persons’ hearing loss and a decline in their cognitive function.

However, results published in theJournal of Clinical Medicine that when the Melbourne team reassessed participants 18 months after they were fitted with hearing aids, 97.3 per cent had a clinically significant improvement or stability in "executive function" - which is the mental skills required to plan, organise information and initiate tasks that can be diluted with dementia.

"We don't know what is causing it, we don't know what the mechanism is, but there seems to be this link," Prof Sarant said.

"Even for people with mild hearing loss, the rate of cognitive decline can be 30-40 per cent faster than for a person with normal hearing.

"When we followed them up after 18 months we found executive function in particular had significantly improved when we looked at the group mean scores across the sample.

"Not only did they not decline significantly, as a group they significantly improved in executive function."

With the 50 million people in the world currently experiencing dementia expected to rise to 131 million by 2050, Prof Sarant said results of the Melbourne study underline the need for a much more in-depth examination of the potential hearing aids may have.

"We need to keep going with this study and follow up for a longer period of time a greater number of people," she said.

grant.mcarthur@news.com.au


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