Cochlear implants can improve health and prolong life

Hearing loss has a significant impact on life and is recognized as a health risk factor. It even shortens the lifespan of those affected. However, researchers have now concluded from a new study that the regular use of hearing systems can also help people to live longer.

The scientists Katharine Kim Brewster from Columbia Medical University specializes in geriatrics and dementia. She and her colleague Carly Maitlin wrote in the scientific journal The Lancet that hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline, dementia, and poor physical health. As early as 2017, a publication in The Lancet showed that hearing loss is the greatest controllable risk factor for dementia that happens later in life. However, according to another long-term study from Boston/USA analyzed in 2019, regular use of hearing aids reduces this risk.

Nevertheless, hearing loss can also trigger mental illnesses, such as depression. By this, experts mean a combination of persistently depressed mood, rumination, hopelessness, and a loss of motivation. This can be accompanied by physical discomfort as well. Depression is usually caused by a combination of neurobiological and psychosocial factors: for example, hearing loss and some associated factors such as personal loss, social withdrawal and isolation, fears about the future and money worries due to a more difficult employment situation and many more.

Scientific data suggests that hearing loss could even increase the risk of death. However, recent data from the USA provides some relief - consistent use of hearing systems can successfully counteract this risk.

Around 2.5 billion affected by 2050!

Early hearing treatment could reduce the risk of death by minimizing loneliness, depression and decay. ©Adobe Stock

"It is estimated that 1.6 billion people are affected by hearing loss worldwide. By 2050, the number of people affected is expected to rise to 2.5 billion," say the scientists led by Janet S. Choi, referring to the already known figures in their publication of the new data. They then highlight the enormous burden that hearing loss brings with it due to the associated communication restrictions - both in the social environment and in the workplace.

In addition to a generally poorer quality of life, they cite health issues such as depression, dementia, and increased mortality as proven consequences of hearing impairment: "Previous systematic reviews and meta-analyses have shown that hearing loss is associated with significantly increased mortality overall, even after taking demographics and comorbidities into account." Every 30 decibels of hearing loss would lead to a further doubling of the risk of death, which has been proven by several studies.

The use of hearing aids not only improves the impairment caused by hearing loss and the quality of life overall; the current data also show that hearing-impaired people who regularly use hearing aids have a lower risk of dying than those hearing-impaired people who never or only occasionally use hearing aids.

Data analysis from almost 10,000 Americans

The scientists at the University of Southern California used extensive data material from a large-scale survey conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services between 1999 and 2012 for these investigations. Almost 10,000 adults took part in the long-term study called the "National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey", 1,863 of whom had hearing loss. In some other studies, the participants were only asked whether they suffered from hearing loss. In contrast, this time the hearing loss was determined by audiometric measurements and the use of hearing aids was recorded.

Of course, older people are both more likely to have hearing loss and have a shorter life expectancy. Thus, it may come as little surprise that a statistical survey shows a shorter life expectancy for people with hearing loss. However, even when this influencing factor is considered, a moderate to severe hearing loss results in a shorter life expectancy. This data confirms earlier scientific publications by other research groups.

What is relatively new is the clear conclusion that the mortality risk was lower for those affected if they used hearing aids regularly. However, those affected who only used their hearing aids irregularly showed the same mortality risk as hearing-impaired study participants without hearing aids.

The exact connections are still unclear, but hearing prolongs life!

In a review of the new publication, Brewster and Maitlin criticize the fact that although the data from this study are particularly reliable, the link between hearing aid use and lower mortality is not sufficiently investigated. "Given the association between hearing loss and cognitive decline, another plausible explanation is that hearing aids improve mortality risk by reducing the risk of dementia," they add. "After all, hearing treatment could reduce the risk of mortality by reducing loneliness, depression and frailty - all of which are risk factors for poor health."

Regular use of hearing aids improves health and prolongs life. ©Adobe Stock

They call for further, extensive long-term studies and studies with randomized control groups to investigate the exact effects of hearing aid use on the cognitive, physical, and mental abilities of senior citizens in more detail. However, they also note the following: "Overall, the results suggest that the regular and consistent use of hearing aids could contribute to a lower mortality risk", which can probably also be applied to the consistent use of hearing implants. Regardless of the exact mechanisms behind this, this is ultimately a relevant finding for those affected and their relatives.