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Age-related hearing loss: Our senses are preserved in old age


Many people lose hearing with age

Older people disproportionately often suffer from mostly bilateral hearing impairment. Doctors here speak of a so-called hearing loss. Every third person at the age of 65 is affected. A recent study now shows that untreated hearing disorders are not only annoying and uncomfortable, they can also cause people to fall, become lonely or lose their mental abilities in old age.

Dr. med. Christiane Völter from the Ruhr University Bochum will present the pilot study on care options for the hearing impaired at the annual meeting of the German Society for Ear, Nose and Throat, Head and Neck Surgery (DGHNO KHC) in Lübeck on May 8, 2018. One focus is the so-called cochlear implant, which should not only improve the quality of life for seniors, but also cognitive performance.

Creeping loss

In most cases, the high notes weaken first. "The seniors notice that they no longer hear the twittering of birds," reports Dr. Völter in a press release prior to the annual meeting. Later, those affected find it increasingly difficult to follow other people in conversation. Often, those affected do not want to admit hearing loss. However, if left untreated, the lack of hearing can have drastic consequences.

Possible consequences of hearing loss

Hearing loss is often a symptom of illness. Völter reports that many seniors respond to hearing impairment with social withdrawal. The reduced hearing contributes to the fact that mental abilities decrease. According to Völter, an often underestimated factor is that hearing loss is stressful on the psyche and can contribute to the development of depression.

Hearing loss and dementia

"Long-term studies have shown that people with hearing disorders develop dementia more often," says Völter. With moderate hearing disorders, the risk increases twice, with a high grade even five times.

Many sufferers do not use hearing aids

"Hearing aids can help integrate older people back into society," explains the expert. Today's digital devices are so technically mature that they can be used regularly by those affected after a slow familiarization. But apparently too few people make use of it. According to federal estimates for the hearing impaired, less than 50 percent of the hearing impaired are provided with hearing aids.

The cochlear implant

According to Völter, the conventional devices are not sensible and sufficient for all hearing impaired people. In the case of advanced hearing disorders, a cochlear implant may be required, for example if the inner ear hearing loss is close to complete deafness. The implants record the sound from the environment via a microphone and transmit the signals directly to the auditory nerve. These devices were originally developed for deaf children.

Implants improve quality of life and mental skills

"In the meantime, cochlear implants are also being used more and more in older people," said Dr. Völter. Previous experience would have shown that surgical implantation is safe in older people. Taking into account pre-existing diseases, the complication rate in older people is comparable to that in younger people. "For most patients, not only does the quality of life improve, but the mental abilities also seem to benefit from such rehabilitation," sums up the expert.

Course of the study

The positive effects of the implant Völter examined in a pilot study with a number of tests. Before and after the test subjects received a cochlear implant, they should perform ten exercises on the computer that examine different cognitive areas. "Already after six months there was an improved performance in the areas of attention, delayed memory, impulse control and working memory", Völkert summarizes her student research.

Does the implant also work against dementia?

The greatest improvements were seen in the tests on executive functions. These functions measure the ability to perform complex tasks that are needed in everyday life. "Whether hearing rehabilitation can delay the development of dementia remains to be seen," said Völter. However, the cochlear implant can help to make aging easier. (vb)

Author and source information

Video: Eric Kandel-The Biology of Memory and Age Related Memory Loss (August 2020).