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Could cochlear implants help to keep dementia at bay?

Losing your hearing is a distressing experience at any age, but recent research suggests that it may have more profound implications for the elderly than has been previously thought.

Being unable to hear others well can lead to an increase in isolation or perceived loneliness in older adults; this in turn can lead to introversion, poor mood and embarrassment. Carers also experience an increase in frustration when caring for someone who cannot hear them well. Especially when hearing loss has not been properly diagnosed or treated, family members may think their elderly relative is just being "difficult" or uncaring if they don't respond appropriately to family interactions.

A New Medical Study

It's not yet widely understood how the loss of hearing impacts the brain's functions, but a new study shows that cochlear implants in elderly patients seem to help to restore some lost cognitive function.

The study, carried out in France, observed and tested 94 patients aged 65 to 85 years who had been profoundly deaf for a number of years. Results showed significant improvements in cognitive test scores following successful cochlear implants. The lead researcher, Dr Isabelle Mosnier, believes that older people should be offered cochlear implants as soon as hearing aids cease to be sufficient.

What are Cochlear Implants?

What are Cochlear Implants?

Cochlear implants are small electronic devices, implanted deep into the ear, which stimulate the auditory nerve. This long established medical procedure is considered very low risk and routine, and has no upper age limit.

Cochlear implant operations usually take approximately 3 hours to complete, and the patient stays in hospital for 2-3 days following the procedure. The implants are switched on a few weeks after the procedure, to allow time for healing, and then further appointments may be necessary to fine tune the auditory signals to a level which is comfortable for the patient.

Towards a Better Future?

It's easy to see how improved hearing could lead to a better quality of life for older people - and indeed for their carers. If this study's findings can be replicated, then it seems that hearing rehabilitation could play a significant role in treating or even preventing dementia in the future.

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