Surprising Bonus of Cochlear Implants in Elderly

New research finds that cochlear implants in older people not only help with hearing loss but may also improve thinking, mood and — most significantly — memory.

Dementia word cloud

In a study published March 12, French researcher Isabelle Mosnier, of Assistance Publique-Hopitaux de Paris examined the effect of cochlear implants on elderly patients, ages 65 to 85, with profound hearing loss.

Previous research has found older people with severe to profound hearing loss are at greater risk for cognitive decline and dementia than those with normal hearing. The more severe the loss, the greater the risk. Researchers don’t know why this is, or whether one causes the other.

So far no large-scale research has determined whether using hearing aids offsets the risk, but a recent French study, using cochlear implants, found marked improvements in three areas: speech perception, quality of life (depression) and cognitive performance.

To read more about the study and possible explanations for these promising findings, go to the full article:

Cochlear Implants Shown to Reverse Cognitive Decline 

Good Friends Make for Better Health

Friendships and social connections are a key factor in living a longer, healthy life. This was demonstrated in“The Longevity Project,’’ a book-length report on an 80-year study of 1,528 individuals that began with Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman in 1921 and was completed by the psychology professors Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin.

In a 2011 interview, I asked Friedman and Martin what the single strongest social predictor of long life was. Their unhesitating answer: a strong social network.

People with hearing loss sometimes have to make themselves keep up those social connections. If you know you’re not going to be able to hear at a lecture, a party or a restaurant, the tendency is to stay home. This is true also of places of worship. It’s one reason why assistive listening devices and hearing loops are so important.

Lectures, classes and worship services are places where many of us go for social, intellectual and spiritual stimulation. They are where we meet new people and hear new ideas. If a venue like a lecture hall or place of worship is looped, it becomes accessible to those with hearing loss simply by a flip of the T-coil switch on their hearing aid….

Read more here to find out about some studies on the negative effects of social isolation and depression on cognitive health. And read more to find ways to keep those old friends and find new ones.

Your Gym May Be Bad for Your Hearing

But that’s not a reason to quit. Some suggestions for keeping your whole body — including your ears — healthy.

What’s good for your body is not necessarily good for your ears. Loud music is an integral part of many workout activities — spin classes are a prime example. A recent article in the New York Times found that the noise levels in a spin class at Crunch averaged 100 decibels over 40 minutes, and hit 105 decibels in its loudest five minutes. A staffer for the Hearing Health Foundation found that the decibel level at her gym hit 115 decibels.

Click here to read more.

Are We Treating Depression When We Should Be Treating Hearing Loss?

Could we be prescribing antidepressants to those who really need a hearing test? A large-scale study published last April,based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2005-2010 found a significant correlation between hearing loss and depression, confirming some smaller studies and also anecdotal evidence. What was most interesting was that the link was found only in certain populations. There was no relatioTwo older women having lemonadenshipbetween hearing loss and depression in people who were either culturally deaf or functionally deaf. There was no relationship in adults 70 and older who self-reported hearing loss. In other words, those who accepted their hearing loss did not experience greater levels of depression. So who did? Read more……. Photo: Kali9/iStock Postscript: On Monday, the Federal Government Accountability Office released findings showing widespread use of psychiatric drugs by older Americans with dementia. The drugs included the “inappropriate” use of Abilify, Risperdal, Zyprexa and clozapine.  Abilify, an antipsychotic intended for treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as major depressive disorder in connection with other drugs, is the number 1 seller among all prescription drugs — not just antidepressants – in this country. Sales between April 2013 and March 2014 ($6.9 billion) amounted to more than all other antidepressants combined. That’s a lot of schizophrenic, bipolar and majorly depressed people. Clearly Abilify is being prescribed for more routine depression as well. Many dementias are clearly diagnosable, but some are not. Sometimes these turn out to be hearing loss or misplaced hearing aids. Are we treating these people with antipsychotics? Sounds more like a mental ward than an assisted living facility.

Are Your Ears Trying to Protect Themselves?

Our senses have warning systems to alert us to possible dangers. A bitter taste warns us away from poisons. A putrid smell alerts us that food may not be safe to eat. Our eyes close automatically when exposed to a flash of light. Pain receptors in our skin warn us to pull away from something hot.

But what about hearing? We all know that noise damages our hearing, and most of us have thought of hearing as an anomaly among the senses: the only one without a defense mechanism.

Lab mouseNow researchers think they have discovered a pain receptor system in the ears, and it may be why we instinctively put our fingers in our ears or clap our hands over them when we hear an ambulance or a jackhammer or other loud noise…..

Read more about why this may be a breakthrough for #tinnitus and #hyperacusis sufferers at @aarp health/katherine bouton

A Simple Solution for Remembering Names

You’ve probably heard the tips. Visualize something about the person that will remind you of the name: Rose — the woman wearing the pink sweater. Spike — the guy with the hair. Repeat the name either mentally or out loud.

But that doesn’t always help. Maybe you’re at a business meeting with new clients. They’re all dressed alike. They all look alike, for that matter. Who’s who? What did he say? Or a cocktail party. Even social chatter can be uncomfortable if you can’t hear the person’s name.iStock_000035830680Medium

Senior moment? Maybe. Symptoms of what we call normal age-related hearing loss can be alarming but are generally not indicative of serious decline. If you sometimes forget a name, occasionally have to search for a word, misplace your keys, you probably shouldn’t worry. If these things happen on a regular basis and seem to be increasing in frequency, you should have a test to see if you might have MCI, mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s.

But if your problem is failing to remember the names or occupations or interests of people you meet, the cause may be much simpler and easily corrected. Perhaps you are just not hearing them.

If you have to work to hear, which is the case with even mild hearing loss in a noisy environment — at a party, an office gathering, on the street — your cognitive energies are focused on deciphering what is said. You’re introduced to someone whose name you don’t get. You ask him to repeat it. You still don’t quite get it. The conversation goes on from there, and within a couple of minutes you’ve lost track of the subject. You’re guessing at responses, making noncommittal replies, smiling and nodding your head. And then when you walk away you have no idea who you were talking to, or what you were talking about.

Sound familiar? Before you panic about early-onset dementia, have your hearing tested. Hearing aids, or hearing-aid-like devices, can be a quick fix. Directional microphones allow you to focus on the person speaking. Add assistive listening devices like the Phonak Roger pen or a Pocket Talker and you may hear more clearly than anyone else in the room.

Hearing better can make those social and business encounters less stressful. More important, hearing better may help stave off cognitive decline. Hearing clearly leaves greater cognitive reserve for remembering, responding, analyzing and even thinking.

Watch the woman with the gray hair in the video below (and listen to the babble). Her body language says she’s uneasy, turning away and turning back. Maybe it’s because she can’t really hear over all those voices? I can relate to that.

Photo: Galaxia/iStock; Video: Viafilms/iStock

This post first appeared on AARP-Health, Feb 18, 2015.

Hearing With a Hat

One thing no one ever mentions about hearing loss is how much harder it is to hear with a hat on. Hats are something we in the northeast have been wearing for weeks now. Sometimes indoors as well as outdoors, as the temperature drops into the minus degrees.imgres-1

I have lots of friends with hearing loss in Canada and Minnesota and I never hear them mention hats. Maybe it’s because they wear them year round and so think that the way they hear with a hat on is normal.

If you wear a hat AND live in a windy area — say just off Lake Ontario or the Hudson River (that’s me) — forget it. I haven’t heard out of doors since before Christmas.

How about that hat!