Our senior years present a range of challenges for health and wellness. Mobility can become more difficult, and aches and pains seem to be inevitable. In addition, our cognitive ability tends to slow down.
Whether that decline takes the form of minor lapses of memory, a slower pace of mental processing, or the more serious condition of dementia. What can you do to promote good cognitive health as you are aging? There are a number of different lifestyle steps you can take. Diet and exercise have been linked to better cognitive functioning in the senior years, and getting started with these habits right away is a good practical step you can take. “Exercising” your brain with puzzles, reading, and complex thought projects is an excellent way to stay mentally sharp as the years go by.
Two preventative measures might come as a surprise to you, though. Did you know that wearing hearing aids and getting cataract surgery can slow the process of cognitive decline? A pair of studies by researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Manchester examined this process, discovering some powerful ways to promote cognitive health. Let’s take a closer look at what they found.
Hearing Loss and Cataracts
This pair of studies recruited seniors to participate in ongoing research for an extended period. The first study recruited 2,000 seniors to come in for hearing tests and cognitive exams every two years for a full 18 years. This rich data set made it possible to see correlations with both hearing loss and cognitive decline. Hearing tests were performed every two years, and a battery of cognitive exams tested memory and brain functioning, as well.
One of the tests was a simple recall of 10 words in a list. With tests like this, the researchers were able to track the pace of cognitive decline over the years. The cataract study worked similarly with a different group of participants. They followed three parallel groups over the years—those who did not have cataracts, those who did have cataracts but did not have corrective surgery, and those who did receive the corrective cataract surgery.
By comparing the cognitive performance of these three groups, they were able to interpret the effect of cataract surgery in slowing down cognitive decline.
Results of the Study
The results of these studies showed a strong positive effect of hearing aids and cataract surgery on slowing down cognitive decline for seniors. Wearing hearing aids led to a 75% slower rate of cognitive decline, on average, and receiving cataract surgery led to a 50% slower rate of cognitive decline, when compared with those who had cataracts but did not receive the surgery. Why would these interventions have such powerful effects on cognition?
Researchers continue to explore this connection, wondering what makes our hearing and vision so protective for the brain. One of the possibilities has to do with the role of language processing in keeping the brain sharp. When we interact with language through speech or written words on the page, our brains enter a process of gathering information and transforming it into complex thought. When it comes to hearing ability, specifically, we use audible stimuli to enter a process of guess-and-check and improvisation in conversations.
When we hear language, we present the brain with the opportunity to respond to those cues, we are effectively “exercising” the cognitive process. When hearing loss gets in the way of receiving that audible information, the brain has to reallocate its resources to comparatively simple task of deciphering what it hears.
Get Your Hearing Tested with Us
Hearing aids can intervene and restore the ability to gather complete information from speech. Rather than devoting brain power to putting together a puzzle of sound, we can use our brains to engage in complex thought and analysis.
If you are interested in receiving these benefits for your cognition, the first step is to get a hearing test. When we test your hearing, we will have a full diagnosis of your needs for treatment. With those results in hand, our hearing health professionals can recommend the right hearing aids for your individual needs. Getting hearing aids can have benefits for your cognitive wellbeing!