Hearing Loss and Cognition: The Role of Hearing Aids, Social Isolation and Depression

Sabah Bari ’24

Figure 1: An elderly man with a hearing aid with a sad facial expression. Hearing loss is a common condition within the older population.

Individuals with hearing loss have been correlated with low cognitive functioning and incident dementia. Cognitive impairment includes problems with memory, having trouble with learning new tasks, concentrating or making decisions that affect their everyday life. Dementia is a form of cognitive impairment, in the sense of, loss of memory, language and problem solving. Both conditions can limit an individual’s function and interfere with their daily lifestyle. Poor cognitive performance and dementia have a significant impact and financial burden on the individual, the individual’s caregivers, and society. However, in a  study done by researchers at various institutions in the UK and the US, it was found that preventive measures of hearing loss may prevent poor cognitive performance and dementia. Hearing aids may help prevent/reduce this decline in cognitive impairment but this is not because having a hearing aid reduces social isolation and depression. The purpose of this study was to examine the cognitive performance of individuals who use hearing aids and determine whether  there is a correlation between social isolation and/or depression. The researchers hypothesized that cognitive performance improves with hearing aids but does not reflect positive results related to social isolation and depression. The two main hypotheses for the association between hearing loss with cognitive decline and dementia are age-related neurodegenerative mechanisms and the long term lack of auditory input due to social isolation or depression.

Participant data was recorded from 2006 to 2010, which included greater than 500,000 adults with the contro8l factors of age, sex, general health and socioeconomic status. The participants went through a series of tests that recorded an assessment of their lifestyle, environment, medical history, cognitive capacity and hearing. The collection of the data was analyzed with additional measures of a subset group of 164,770 participants, who were tasked with the Digit Triplet Test (DTT). The DDT procedure used a signal to noise ratio, in which participants were asked to raise their hand when they heard a sound through a machine. In order to process this procedure’s data, the researchers had a series of questions regarding the participants’ mental health and their relationship with social engagement. Cognitive task related questions were included as well, to assess the association between the decline in cognitive performance (which can lead to dementia) and hearing loss. Many of the participants who used hearing aids had a loss of hearing through a lack of auditory input because they were in social isolation. 

The researchers realized that further research is needed to understand if there is a correlation existing between hearing aid use and depression. The result of this study did not suggest any association between hearing loss and depression; however, there was a correlation between hearing loss and the increase of social isolation. Participants who use hearing aids that are socially isolating themselves have an increased correlation with depression. The researchers were correct about the decline in cognitive functioning with individuals who use a hearing aid. However, more data is needed to confirm the rate of the association with hearing aids and cognitive decline over an extended period of time. Establishing the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline is a major factor in determining dementia in a participant. 

Work(s) cited:

[1] Dawes, Piers, et al. “Hearing Loss and Cognition: the Role of Hearing AIDS, Social Isolation and Depression.” PloS One 10(3), (2015). 11 Mar. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4356542/

[2] Image retrieved from: https://unsplash.com/photos/cKT0oJL9vMI

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