WEDNESDAY, Oct. 17, 2018 -- You won't jump for joy when you're told you need hearing aids or cataract surgery. But get this: Both appear to slow mental decline in older adults.
That's what researchers concluded after studying more than 2,000 people in England who had cataract surgery and more than 2,000 Americans given hearing aids.
"These studies underline just how important it is to overcome the barriers which deny people from accessing hearing and visual aids," researcher Piers Dawes, of the University of Manchester in England, said in a university news release.
"It's not really certain why hearing and visual problems have an impact on cognitive [memory and thinking skill] decline, but I'd guess that isolation, stigma and the resultant lack of physical activity that are linked to hearing and vision problems might have something to do with it," said Dawes, a lecturer in audiology and deafness.
For comparison, the researchers looked at thousands of people who had not had cataract surgery or obtained hearing aids.
The investigators compared the rates of mental decline before and after the patients had their vision and hearing improved. The rate of mental decline was halved after cataract surgery and was 75 percent lower after starting to use a hearing aid.
Dawes noted that people might not want to wear hearing aids due to stigma, because the amplification is not good enough, or because they're uncomfortable.
"Perhaps a way forward is adult screening to better identify hearing and vision problems and in the case of hearing loss, demedicalizing the whole process so treatment is done outside the clinical setting. That could reduce stigma," Dawes suggested.
"Wearable hearing devices are coming on stream nowadays which might also be helpful. They not only assist your hearing, but give you access to the internet and other services," he added.
According to Dawes' colleague, Asri Maharani, "Age is one of the most important factors implicated in cognitive decline. We find that hearing and vision interventions may slow it down and perhaps prevent some cases of dementia, which is exciting -- though we can't say yet that this is a causal relationship."
The cataract surgery study was published Oct. 11 in the journal PLoS One. The hearing aid study was published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
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