Want to know how to take years off your age? Here’s a little secret, and it’s not what you think. (No face creams or stem cells involved.)
Research reveals that your ability to hear is more closely linked to mental clarity and function than once thought. In fact, they’ve shown that when someone with untreated hearing loss uses their hearing aids, something amazing happens. The brain begins to work better. It once again effectively processes new information, storing memories and memory recall.
The hearing aid study
The University of Maryland (UMD) Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences (HESP) recruited a group of older adults. These individuals had never worn hearing aids, but they had mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
This group was surprisingly easy to find: The NIDCD Epidemiology and Statistics Program shows that only around 30% of people 70+ who would benefit from hearing aids wear them. Below age 70, that rate drops to 16%.
Once the UMD researchers found their participants, they divided them into two groups:
- Experimental group – This group would wear hearing aids during the study
- Control group – This group would continue in their status quo by not wearing hearing aids
They observed the two groups over a 6-month period.
That’s a relatively short period of time for a study. But, in this case, just how short the study was is part of what makes this study so interesting.
At the beginning of the 6-month period, the researchers ran a series of tests on:
- Mental processing speed
They additionally tested brain activity in response to speech sounds. And they looked specifically at the auditory cortex and mid-brain using scans.
Hearing aids improved mental function
After just 6 months, the researchers re-ran the tests on both groups.
The experimental groups showed great improvements in speech processing. In addition, listening ease got better compared to those first few days wearing new hearing aids. Their working memories and the part of their brain that processes sound worked much more effectively.
During the same time, the control group that had not worn the hearing aids showed no observable improvements.
This study supports what other similar studies have found. Wearing hearing aids may slow and even reverse age-related cognitive decline in those with hearing loss.
Why hearing aids may take years off your mental age
A large body of research on the benefits of hearing aids to mental and cognitive health supports these findings. Studies also show that hearing aids can improve overall health and cut healthcare expenses significantly.
In regards to mental health, studies show that when hearing people slowly begin to lose their hearing, sensory deprivation causes a chain reaction in the brain.
First, the parts of the brain responsible for processing sound begin to shut down. The longer a person continues in this sound-deprived state, the more parts of the brain begin to feel the effects. Memory, learning, and problem-solving will all be affected.
On top of that, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) found another disturbing link. There were twice as many instances of depression among those with untreated hearing loss. This may be because these individuals are also more likely to become socially isolated. Both depression and social isolation have also been linked to memory loss and cognitive challenges across age groups.
That’s true even when hearing loss isn’t a factor.
The study represents a silver lining
Perhaps because of what you saw, or see, your parents go through, you think it’s inevitable that you’ll experience the same thing. But studies like these show that modern technology and lifestyle choices give you a lot of control over the “natural” aging process. Age really is just a number.
These studies don’t show that hearing aids can “cure” dementia, memory loss, or cognitive decline. But what they do show is that restored hearing can help reverse the portion of these that can be attributed to untreated hearing loss.