Help with hearing may limit cognitive decline

Hearing aids may significantly benefit adults who at risk for cognitive decline, according to the findings of the first randomised trial of its kind.

Because hearing loss is linked to cognitive decline and dementia in older adults, Professor Frank Lin of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, and colleagues measured the impact of a hearing intervention.

They recruited 977 adults aged 70 to 84 years with untreated hearing loss and without substantial cognitive impairment.

At random they were assigned either audiology counselling and a hearing aid, or simply health education. Each participant was tested every six months.

After three years no differences were seen in cognitive scores between the groups, but the researchers then realised that the groups were not evenly matched for other risk factors.

Once this was taken into account, a significant difference was seen in favour of the hearing intervention among participants at higher risk. In this group, there was 48% less cognitive change in those who received hearing aids.

In The Lancet, the team wrote: “These findings suggest that a hearing intervention might reduce cognitive change over three years in populations of older adults at increased risk for cognitive decline but not in populations at decreased risk for cognitive decline.”

Professor Lin said: “These results provide compelling evidence that treating hearing loss is a powerful tool to protect cognitive function in later life, and possibly, over the long term, delay a dementia diagnosis.

“But any cognitive benefits of treating age-related hearing loss are likely to vary depending on an individuals’ risk of cognitive decline.”

Lin, F. R. et al. Hearing intervention versus health education control to reduce cognitive decline in older adults with hearing loss in the USA (ACHIEVE): a multicentre, randomised controlled trial. The Lancet 17 July 2023; doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(23)01406-X


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