Diminished hearing can lead to other concerns

How hearing aids may help you prevent dementia

Dear Doctors: My dad is 78 years old, and although he’s losing his hearing, he won’t use a hearing aid. I’m told this can be common in older adults. Talking to him about hearing loss and social isolation hasn’t been effective. Wouldn’t hearing aids make him safer? I think he would care about that.

Dear Reader: You’re facing a challenge that is familiar to many adult children who help care for their older parents. It is estimated that more than half of adults 75 years of age and older are living with measurable hearing loss. Most would benefit from using a hearing aid, and yet the data show that fewer than one-third use them. One of the primary reasons for this is the stigma. Wearing a hearing aid is often perceived as a sign of old age and a loss of physical and mental acuity. The high cost of the devices also plays a significant role.

In your letter, you’ve brought up two crucial points regarding the effects of untreated hearing loss on quality of life. Social isolation is indeed one of the outcomes. This leads to loneliness, which is now clearly linked to a range of adverse health effects. These include hypertension, elevated levels of stress hormones, increased risk of metabolic disease, heart disease, and an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. And your instincts are right on the mark -- physical safety is affected as well.

A study recently published in the Lancet group’s journal Healthy Longevity found that regularly using a hearing aid to treat hearing loss lowered the risk of early death by up to 25%. It makes sense, since we rely on countless audible cues as we navigate the world each day. Our brains are constantly sifting through and interpreting the spectrum of sounds around us, both while we are awake and asleep. This stream of information keeps us aware of changes in the environment, alerts us to possible threats, helps us to stay oriented and adds crucial layers of information to what our senses of sight and touch are telling us.

If you persuade your father to consider a hearing aid, there are a few steps you can take to improve the odds of success. Start by finding a reputable audiologist. This is a specialist with whom your dad will have an ongoing relationship, so it should be someone he enjoys working with. The audiologist will help identify the proper device for your father’s hearing loss and for his lifestyle. This process can take some time. It is not unusual to try out several types of hearing aids before landing on the right match.

Although a hearing aid amplifies sound and can improve the user’s ability to understand speech, it will not restore natural hearing. So it’s also important to remember it can take several months to become acclimated to using the device. The good news is that at the end of this process, your dad will be safer and more able to connect to the world and the people around him.

(Send your questions to [email protected], or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)

Take the Next Step

Learn more about UCLA Health's Audiology and schedule an appointment.