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Hearing management

17 November 2018

Here's how hearing aids and cataract surgery may boost the ageing brain

Having a hearing aid fitted or undergoing cataract surgery may help slow mental decline in older adults.

You won't jump for joy when you're told you need a hearing aid or cataract surgery. But get this: Both appear to slow mental decline in older adults.

That's what researchers concluded after studying more than 2 000 people in England who had cataract surgery and more than 2 000 Americans given hearing aids.

"These studies underline just how important it is to overcome the barriers which deny people from accessing hearing and visual aids," researcher Piers Dawes, of the University of Manchester in England, said in a university news release.

"It's not really certain why hearing and visual problems have an impact on cognitive [memory and thinking skill] decline, but I'd guess that isolation, stigma and the resultant lack of physical activity that are linked to hearing and vision problems might have something to do with it," said Dawes, a lecturer in audiology and deafness.

For comparison, the researchers looked at thousands of people who had not had cataract surgery or obtained hearing aids.

Rate of mental decline

The investigators compared the rates of mental decline before and after the patients had their vision and hearing improved. The rate of mental decline was halved after cataract surgery and was 75% lower after starting to use a hearing aid.

Dawes noted that people might not want to wear hearing aids due to stigma, because the amplification is not good enough, or because they're uncomfortable.

"Perhaps a way forward is adult screening to better identify hearing and vision problems and in the case of hearing loss, demedicalising the whole process so treatment is done outside the clinical setting. That could reduce stigma," Dawes suggested.

"Wearable hearing devices are coming on stream nowadays which might also be helpful. They not only assist your hearing, but give you access to the internet and other services," he added.

According to Dawes' colleague, Asri Maharani, "Age is one of the most important factors implicated in cognitive decline. We find that hearing and vision interventions may slow it down and perhaps prevent some cases of dementia, which is exciting though we can't say yet that this is a causal relationship."

The cataract surgery study was published in October 2018 in the journal PLoS One, while the hearing aid study was published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Image credit: iStock 

 

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Hearing Expert

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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