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4 Ways Hearing Aids Can Improve Your Health Beyond Helping You Hear

They could prolong your life, help prevent you from falling and even lower dementia risk


spinner image closeup of woman wearing hearing aid and the hearing aid is highlighted and glowing
Dan Saelinger / trunkarchive.com

With age comes wisdom — and, inevitably, hearing loss too. 

“About one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss,” says Kelly King, an audiologist and program officer at the Division of Scientific Programs, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), “and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.”

The solution is simple, right? Wear hearing aids. Unfortunately, “among adults 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30 percent) has ever used them,” King says, whether because of their high cost, the stigma of “looking old,” the belief that they are ineffective or limited access to health care.

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And that’s a pity. Because hearing aids don’t just improve your hearing — studies have indicated they may have many other significant benefits. Here are four important ways they may improve your health.

1. They could actually help you live longer

A study published in January 2024 in The Lancet Healthy Longevity journal found that American adults who have hearing loss and are regular users of hearing aids have a significantly lower risk of dying than those who never use hearing aids. 

The University of Southern California study looked at health information from almost 10,000 participants in a 13-year Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health survey. 

The researchers found a 24 percent lower risk of early death between the regular users of hearing aids and those who never wore them. It found no difference in mortality rates between non-regular hearing aid users and those who didn’t have hearing aids.

“The risk of dying was higher among those who never used hearing aids than regular hearing aid users,” says Janet Choi, M.D., an otolaryngologist with Keck Medicine of USC and lead study author. “The differences were significant, even after accounting for relevant factors such as age, severity of hearing loss, socioeconomic status and other medical conditions.” 

Although Choi points out that more study is needed to understand cause and effect, she tells her patients there is a real benefit to treating hearing loss.  

“I encourage anyone experiencing hearing difficulties to get their hearing tested and determine the type and severity of their hearing loss,” she says. “You might be surprised at the variety of hearing device options available to assist with your hearing loss that can enhance daily communication and quality of life.”

“We know from other studies that patients who have social isolation, loneliness and depression have an increased mortality risk, and that hearing aids cause less loneliness, less social isolation and less depression.”

— Amit Shah, M.D.

Amit Shah, M.D., a geriatrician at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, says it was a quality study. “We know from other studies that patients who have social isolation, loneliness and depression have an increased mortality risk, and that hearing aids cause less loneliness, less social isolation and less depression.” He says that those who are more socially engaged are also more likely to be physically active, which in turn makes them more likely to live longer. 

“It’s not that dropping a device in your ear magically increases your life expectancy; it’s what happens because you have that device,” Shah says.

2. They lower your risk of falling

The length of our life matters — but so, too, does its quality.  “Nobody wants to die early,” says Shah, “but quality of life is more important than longevity for many of my older patients. And the thing they fear most is falling and breaking a hip.”

Falls are serious business: One in four adults age 65 and older report falling each year, according to the CDC, and falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries in people in that age range.

“Falls are the most common and costly hearing-associated safety event in older adults,” says King, adding that there is a clear link between hearing loss and falls, with the fall risk higher the worse someone’s hearing is. 

But research has found that hearing aids can help protect against falls. A recent study in The Journal of the American Geriatric Society found that adults 60 years or older who have hearing loss in both ears and do not wear hearing aids are 2.4 times more likely to fall than those who wear hearing aids. The protection was strongest among those who reported using hearing aids consistently, defined as every day for at least four hours.

“The research leading up to my study showed increased fall risk and fall rate for individuals with hearing loss, but a lot of those studies didn’t ask about hearing aid use, so the really big research question was: If we are aiding those individuals by bringing back auditory information through hearing aids, can we potentially reduce the fall risk?” says Laura Campos, a clinical audiologist at the University of Colorado Health Hearing and Balance Clinic and lead author on the study.

Surveying a population of about 300 people (and taking into account factors like age, gender, cognitive decline and medications that can cause dizziness), Campos’ research found that those who wore hearing aids cut their risk of falling in half. Why would hearing aids make a difference? 

Campos says there are currently three main hypotheses. First, that those with hearing loss may also have vestibular loss in the part of the inner ear that affects balance. Second, that if hearing aids help lighten the amount of brain power needed in a given moment, that person has more capacity to maintain balance. Or third, that our ability to spatially orient ourselves relies on our hearing, just as bats use echolocation to fly. “The idea is that hearing aids give back access to auditory cues, so we can orient ourselves in space.” 

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3. They could help stave off dementia

A large University of Southern Denmark study published in January 2024 found a link between hearing loss and the onset of dementia. The study, which looked at over 573,000 people, found that people who have hearing loss have as much as a 13 percent higher risk of developing dementia than people with normal hearing. It further found that the risk of getting dementia was 20 percent higher for people who did not wear hearing aids, compared with people with normal hearing, suggesting that wearing hearing aids can delay or even stop the onset of dementia. 

The study, which looked at people over 50 between the years 2003 and 2017, was the largest of its kind. The latest research builds on previous studies that have also found hearing aids could help slow down dementia. 

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Recent research funded by the National Institutes of Health and led by Frank Lin, M.D., of Johns Hopkins University studied nearly 1,000 people ages 70 to 84 who had significant hearing loss. The study participants were randomly assigned to two groups: One received hearing aids and were taught how to use them. The second group — the control — was enrolled in a health education program. 

The study found that those who wore hearing aids, not surprisingly, reported a substantial uptick in communication abilities, according to results published in 2023 in The Lancet.

When the researchers looked at all 1,000 participants over the three-year period, they didn’t see that hearing aids made a difference in their memory or thinking skills but, notably, when they analyzed a group at higher risk for dementia, they found that the hearing aids cut their risk of cognitive decline nearly in half. 

A separate Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study published in 2023 in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at more than 2,400 older adults, half of them over 80, and found that the prevalence of dementia was 61 percent higher among those with moderate or severe hearing loss than among those with normal hearing, and the use of hearing aids was linked to a 32 percent lower prevalence of dementia in those who had moderate or severe hearing loss. 

“Hearing is complicated,” Shah says. “If there is no input coming into your ears, there are theories that, like a muscle you don’t use, the brain will either atrophy [shrink] or stop listening. People who have hearing impairment actually do have brain atrophy,” and there is a link between smaller total brain volume and hearing loss. 

4. They can help ease depression, social isolation and anxiety

“When you think about what hearing loss can lead to, one of the most obvious things is the impact on mood, isolation and depression,” says Ronan Factora, M.D., a geriatrician with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Geriatric Medicine. “If you’re not able to hear conversations around you, you have a tendency to withdraw from those activities. … Hearing aids can help to potentially reverse that isolation and loneliness.”

Research supports the link: An analysis of 20 studies covering over 675,000 people found that those who have hearing loss are also more likely to have depression and anxiety than those who don’t. 

Another study published in 2023 in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry that looked at data from the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Aging also found that those with hearing loss were more likely to have symptoms of depression. The study also found that hearing aids seemed to lower the risk of depression.

“We do see a protective effect on social isolation and loneliness measures, meaning that over three years we see that those who got hearing aids experienced less social network shrinkage and were less likely to report loneliness. And that’s pretty powerful stuff,” says Nicholas Reed, an audiologist and epidemiologist in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Mayo’s Shah calls this a bidirectional relationship. 

“If you are depressed, you are more likely to have hearing loss, and if you have hearing loss you are more likely to be depressed,” Shah says. “So if one of my patients is depressed or anxious, I should really assess their hearing because it might be a way to get them out of their depression or anxiety regardless of the cause. For everybody over age 65, it is part of our standard of care to ask about hearing loss as part of their annual wellness visit for Medicare. The positives are very important: You can thrive, stay engaged in the world, in your work, in your volunteering, in your family.”

Video: How Much Cheaper Are Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids?

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