Nav: Home

Study links hearing aids to lower risk of dementia, depression and falls

September 05, 2019

Older adults who get a hearing aid for a newly diagnosed hearing loss have a lower risk of being diagnosed with dementia, depression or anxiety for the first time over the next three years, and a lower risk of suffering fall-related injuries, than those who leave their hearing loss uncorrected, a new study finds.

Yet only 12% of those who have a formal diagnosis of hearing loss actually get the devices - even when they have insurance coverage for at least part of the cost, the study shows. It also reveals gaps in hearing aid use among people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, geographic locations and genders.

The findings, made by a University of Michigan team using data from nearly 115,000 people over age 66 with hearing loss and insurance coverage through a Medicare HMO between 2008 and 2016, are published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Unlike traditional Medicare, Medicare HMOs typically cover some hearing aid costs for members diagnosed with hearing loss by an audiologist.

Elham Mahmoudi, MBA, Ph.D., the U-M Department of Family Medicine health economist who led the study, says the study confirms what other studies have shown among patients studied at a single point in time - but the new findings show differences emerging as time goes on.

"We already know that people with hearing loss have more adverse health events, and more co-existing conditions, but this study allows us to see the effects of an intervention and look for associations between hearing aids and health outcomes," she says. "Though hearing aids can't be said to prevent these conditions, a delay in the onset of dementia, depression and anxiety, and the risk of serious falls, could be significant both for the patient and for the costs to the Medicare system."

Long-term tracking

Mahmoudi and her colleagues at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation looked at anonymous insurance data to perform the study, and looked at the data for each person with hearing loss one year before their diagnosis, and three years after, so they could see only newly diagnosed dementia, depression, anxiety and fall injuries.

They intend to keep studying further data from this population, to see if the differences in health outcomes continue beyond three years.

The study shows that men with hearing loss were more likely to receive a hearing aid - 13.3% compared with 11.3% of women. Only 6.5% of people of Latino heritage received a hearing aid for their hearing loss, compared with 9.8% of African-Americans and 13.6% of whites.

Nearly 37% of people with hearing loss who lived in the north-central part of the country, as designated by the Census Bureau, used a hearing aid, compared with just 5.9% of people in the mountain states.

Differences in diagnosis

When the researchers looked at the path that patients who received hearing aids took over three years, compared with those who didn't get the devices, significant differences emerged.

In all, the relative risk of being diagnosed with dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, within three years of a hearing loss diagnosis was 18% lower for hearing aid users. The risk of being diagnosed with depression or anxiety by the end of three years was 11% lower for hearing aid users, and the risk of being treated for fall-related injuries was 13% lower.

The study also confirms previous studies' findings that people with hearing loss had much higher rates of dementia, depression and fall injuries than the general population.

The reasons for this are complicated, and can include loss of social interaction, loss of independence, loss of balance and less stimulation to the brain. Some researchers also believe that the loss of nerve impulses from the ear to the brain, and loss of cognitive ability leading to dementia, could be part of the same aging process.

What's to come

The study only included individuals who billed their insurance company for part of the cost of their hearing aid, Mahmoudi notes. The coming of FDA-approved over-the-counter hearing aids in 2020 for people with mild to moderate hearing loss could make the devices much more accessible for many people.

But those new devices could also complicate researchers' ability to study the effects of hearing aids on other health outcomes, if people do not use insurance coverage and researchers can't tell if they have one.

"Correcting hearing loss is an intervention that has evidence behind it, and we hope our research will help clinicians and people with hearing loss understand the potential association between getting a hearing aid and other aspects of their health," says Mahmoudi.

She notes that Medicaid in the state of Michigan is now covering hearing aid testing, fitting and purchase, since a policy change in 2018, and that it will be important to study impacts in this population as well.
-end-
In addition to Mahmoudi, the new study's authors are IHPI statisticians Tanima Basu, M.S. and Neil Kamdar, M.A., and IHPI members Kenneth Langa, M.D., Ph.D., Michael M. McKee, M.D., M.P.H., Phillip Zazove, M.D. and Neil Alexander, M.D. Langa and Alexander are professors in the U-M Department of Internal Medicine; McKee and Zazove are assistant professor and chair, respectively, of the U-M Department of Family Medicine. Langa also holds faculty positions in the U-M Institute for Social Research and the VA Ann Arbor Center for Clinical Management Research.

Reference: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, DOI:10.1111/jgs.16109, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jgs.16109

Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

Related Depression Articles:

Children with social anxiety, maternal history of depression more likely to develop depression
Although researchers have known for decades that depression runs in families, new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York, suggests that children suffering from social anxiety may be at particular risk for depression in the future.
Depression and use of marijuana among US adults
This study examined the association of depression with cannabis use among US adults and the trends for this association from 2005 to 2016.
Maternal depression increases odds of depression in offspring, study shows
Depression in mothers during and after pregnancy increased the odds of depression in offspring during adolescence and adulthood by 70%.
Targeting depression: Researchers ID symptom-specific targets for treatment of depression
For the first time, physician-scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have identified two clusters of depressive symptoms that responded to two distinct neuroanatomical treatment targets in patients who underwent transcranial magnetic brain stimulation (TMS) for treatment of depression.
A biological mechanism for depression
Researchers report that in depressed individuals there are increased amounts of an unmodified structural protein, called tubulin, in lipid rafts compared with non-depressed individuals.
Depression in adults who are overweight or obese
In an analysis of primary care records of 519,513 UK adults who were overweight or obese between 2000-2016 and followed up until 2019, the incidence of new cases of depression was 92 per 10,000 people per year.
Why stress doesn't always cause depression
Rats susceptible to anhedonia, a core symptom of depression, possess more serotonin neurons after being exposed to chronic stress, but the effect can be reversed through amygdala activation, according to new research in JNeurosci.
Which comes first: Smartphone dependency or depression?
New research suggests a person's reliance on his or her smartphone predicts greater loneliness and depressive symptoms, as opposed to the other way around.
Depression breakthrough
Major depressive disorder -- referred to colloquially as the 'black dog' -- has been identified as a genetic cause for 20 distinct diseases, providing vital information to help detect and manage high rates of physical illnesses in people diagnosed with depression.
CPAP provides relief from depression
Researchers have found that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can improve depression symptoms in patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases.
More Depression News and Depression Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Debbie Millman: Designing Our Lives
From prehistoric cave art to today's social media feeds, to design is to be human. This hour, designer Debbie Millman guides us through a world made and remade–and helps us design our own paths.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Insomnia Line
Coronasomnia is a not-so-surprising side-effect of the global pandemic. More and more of us are having trouble falling asleep. We wanted to find a way to get inside that nighttime world, to see why people are awake and what they are thinking about. So what'd Radiolab decide to do?  Open up the phone lines and talk to you. We created an insomnia hotline and on this week's experimental episode, we stayed up all night, taking hundreds of calls, spilling secrets, and at long last, watching the sunrise peek through.   This episode was produced by Lulu Miller with Rachael Cusick, Tracie Hunte, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Molly Webster, Pat Walters, Shima Oliaee, and Jonny Moens. Want more Radiolab in your life? Sign up for our newsletter! We share our latest favorites: articles, tv shows, funny Youtube videos, chocolate chip cookie recipes, and more. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.