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May is Better Speech and Hearing Month

Apr 30, 2016, 10:03 a.m.

Hearing Aids Improve Brain Function

A recent study out of the University of Texas at El Paso found that hearing aids improve brain function in persons with hearing loss. If left untreated, hearing loss can lead to serious emotional and social consequences and diminished quality of life. It can also interfere with cognitive abilities because so much effort is put toward understanding speech. “If you have some hearing impairment and you’re not using hearing aids, maybe you can figure out what the person has said, but that comes with a cost,” said Jamie Desjardins, PhD, lead researcher on the study. “You may actually be using the majority of your cognitive resources – your brain power – in order to figure out that message.” Desjardins studies a group in their 50s and 60s with hearing loss who had not previously used hearing aids. They took cognitive tests to measure their working memory, selective attention and processing speed abilities prior to and after using hearing aids. After two weeks of hearing aid use, tests revealed an increase in percent scores for recalling words in memory and selective attention tests, and the processing speed selecting the correct response was faster. By the end of the study, participants had exhibited significant improvement in their cognitive function.

Cost Does Not Always Dictate Hearing Aid Success

One person may find the “premium” hearing aid significantly better than the “basic” hearing aid, while another person may not notice a difference at all. Making sure the aid is programmed correctly is the main predictor of a successful outcome, but even if two people with identical hearing losses are fit with the same hearing aid settings, outcomes can be drastically different. Why is this?

It could be that individual people’s brains are affected differently by years of sound deprivation. It might also have to do with the way a person’s auditory system interacts with the way a hearing aid is processing sound. For example, if one person is unable to process fast changes in a sound, they will not benefit from fast-acting digital signal processing. If we knew more about the patient’s auditory and cognitive system, we could better prescribe hearing aid settings, leading to better outcomes. To do this, we need to discover what about a given person leads to a successful or unsuccessful hearing aid fitting. Researchers at the University of Washington are continuing to study this. If you care about improving outcomes for people with hearing aids, please consider volunteering your time.

--submitted by Christi Miller, Ph.D., CCC-A, an Audiologist and Lecturer at the University of Washington, Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences. She is also the director of the Amplification Laboratory (www.uwamplab.com), where research is conducted to improve outcomes for hearing aid users.

May is also Healthy Vision Month

Seeing the faces of your grandchildren, participating in hobbies such as knitting or golfing, going to the movies with friends or meeting with them for a book club… these all add to the quality of life for people 65+, yet can be taken away if their vision is diminished or gone. There is no doubt that good vision plays a critical role in quality of life, especially as a person ages. Not only are there several eye health problems that can arise later in life, but also the decline in vision is correlated with more falls, which are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in older Americans. According to the American Optometric Association, people age 65 and older who have regular eye examinations experience less decline in vision and improved functional status. Comprehensive eye exams are the best way to ensure good eye and overall health and should be a component of routine healthcare.

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