The Latest on Cognitive Decline, Listening Effort and Hearing Aids

hearing loss, hearing aids and cognitive improvement research

The prevalence of dementia is expected to soar as the average life expectancy increases, but recent estimates suggest that the age-specific incidence of dementia is declining in high-income countries. In the February 11 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Claudia Satizabal and colleagues report “robust evidence” of dementia’s decline.

Using observational data collected from the Framingham Heart Study from 1975 to the present, they found a 20% decrease in dementia incidence each decade, even as average body-mass index, diabetes prevalence, and population age have increased.

Is it safe to conclude that the tide has turned in the dementia epidemic? Experts speculate the gains achieved in the overall declining incidence of dementia have been through improved education, wealth, and control of vascular risk factors. It is much too early to tell if this reduction is permanent, as there are several confounding factors such as obesity, diabetes, and, perhaps even untreated age-related hearing loss in the aging population that could undermine this decline.

This report of the decline in the incidence of dementia should be of interest for hearing care professionals, especially in light of the rapidly aging population, and recent studies showing a link to cognitive decline and degree of hearing loss.

Research is Ongoing

hearing aids and hearing loss in tucson

At a recent meeting of the esteemed AAAS group in Washington, Dr. Frank Lin stated his research team is conducting carefully designed trials to investigate the effects of hearing aid use in individuals experiencing cognitive decline. Lin’s presentation was followed very closely by a report in Hearing Review that Jamie Desjardins, PhD, of The University of Texas at El Paso, has completed research indicating that hearing aids improve brain function in people with hearing loss.

As Desjardins explained to the Hearing Review,

“as people age, basic cognitive skills – working memory, the ability to pay attention to a speaker in a noisy environment, or the ability to process information quickly – begin to decline. Hearing loss affects more than 9 million Americans over the age of 65 and 10 million Americans ages 45 to 64, but only about 20% of people who actually need hearing aids wear them.”

Desjardins examined the effects of hearing loss on brain function by studying a group of inexperienced hearing aid users in their 50s and 60s with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. Study participants took cognitive tests to measure their working memory, selective attention, and processing speed abilities prior to and after using hearing aids.

Following two weeks of hearing aid use, results showed an increase in scores for recalling words in working memory and selective attention tests, and the processing speed at which participants selected the correct response was faster. By the end of the study, participants had exhibited significant improvement in their cognitive function.

In another study by Desjardins, published in the January, 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 15 older listeners with mild sloping to severe sensorineural hearing loss were fitted with commercially available behind-the-ear hearing aids. Listening effort was measured using a primary and secondary task.

Results indicated that listening effort in background noise was significantly reduced with the directional microphones activated in the hearing aids. There was no significant change in listening effort with the hearing aid’s noise reduction algorithm activated compared to condition with noise reduction on the hearing aid deactivated. Desjardins findings suggest that directional microphone processing effectively reduces the cognitive load of listening to speech in background noise. Readers are encouraged to peruse Desjardin’s other recent work in the area of working memory and noise reduction algorithms.

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Best of State in Auditory Services

Timpanogos Hearing & Balance Awarded Best of State in Auditory Services

Timpanogos Hearing & Balance received a great honor – right in the middle of Better Hearing Month! For the fourth year in a row, we won the distinction of being named the Best of State in Auditory Services!

Many of our patients have asked us exactly what this award means. From the site, here is a description of this award:

“The Best of State Awards were created to recognize outstanding individuals, organizations and businesses in Utah. By recognizing excellence in our community and sharing examples of success and triumph in so many worthy endeavors, we hope all will be inspired to reach a little higher, to try a little harder, and to work a little smarter for our dreams and goals.

Best of State Criteria

The Best of State Judges are looking for individuals, businesses, and organizations that:

  • Excel in their endeavors
  • Use innovative approaches or methods
  • Contribute to a better quality of life in Utah”

They also say this about the judging process:

“When all applications are complete or at the end of the application deadline, more than 100 judges review the nominations. Each nomination is judged on its own merits and is not ranked against each other by the judges. Unlike many older judging processes, the Best of State judges perform their assignment(s) individually, away from the possible comments, persuasion or lobbying of other judges. This process is carefully overseen by the independent certified public accounting firm Gilbert & Stewart, P.C., which collects and tabulates the scores for accuracy.

After reviewing each nomination, judges assign numerical scores for each of the three judging criteria. Each nomination is judged on its own merits, and judges do not rank the applicants against each other. The paper ballots are mailed directly to the official Best of State accounting firm, Gilbert & Stewart, CPA, where scores are tabulated and the results are triple-checked for accuracy.”

We are very grateful to have won this award for the third time in a row. We believe it is due to our fabulous staff and patients. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to our success! Here’s to earning this award next year for a fifth time!

Those three criteria used to judge Best of State candidates are as follows:

  • (50%) Achievement in the field of endeavor.
    Best of State candidates demonstrate achievement and excellence in their fields of endeavor, producing superior results and outcomes. Evidence for this achievement may include—but is not limited to—recognition from peers, development of superior products, growth and expansion of their enterprise, and previous awards and competitions won.
  • (30%) Innovation or creativity in approaches, techniques, methods, or processes.
    Best of State candidates differentiate themselves in positive ways from others within their field through innovation or creativity in approaches, techniques, methods, or processes.
  • (20%) Contribution to the quality of life in Utah.
    Best of State candidates make Utah a better place. Community service, charitable contributions (financial or goods and services), family-friendly employment policies, environmentally sound practices or policies, increased employment opportunities, community beautification, education, contribution to a strong economy, and cultural contributions are just a few ways people and organizations make Utah a better place to live and work.