Hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline in the elderly. However, it is unknown if the use of hearing aids (HAs) is associated with enhanced cognitive function.
In a cross-sectional study at an academic medical center, participants underwent audiometric evaluation, the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE), and the Trail Making Test, Part B (TMT-B). The impact of use versus disuse of HAs was assessed. Performance on cognitive tests was then compared with unaided hearing levels.
HA users performed better on the MMSE (1.9 points; rank-sum, p = 0.008) despite having worse hearing at both high frequencies (15.3-dB hearing level; t test, p < 0.001) and low frequencies (15.7-dB hearing level; t test p < 0.001). HA use had no effect TMT-B performance. Better performance on the MMSE was correlated with both low frequency (ρ = −0.28, p = 0.021) and high frequency (ρ = −0.21, p = 0.038) hearing level, but there was no correlation between performance on the TMT-B and hearing at any frequency.
Despite having poorer hearing, HA users performed better on the MMSE. Better performance on cognitive tests with auditory stimuli (MMSE) but not visual stimuli (TMT-B) suggests that hearing loss is associated with sensory-specific cognitive decline rather than global cognitive impairment. Because hearing loss is nearly universal in those older than 80 years, HAs should be strongly recommended to minimize cognitive impairment in the elderly.
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Published online: April 12, 2016
Accepted: March 17, 2016
Received in revised form: March 1, 2016
Received: November 22, 2015
© 2016 American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.