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Hearing aids can help slow cognitive decline in older adults, NIH study confirms

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health confirms that hearing aids can help slow cognitive decline in older adults. The NIH looked at nearly 1,000 people between the ages of 70 and 84. 

"The research that just came out showing, yes, indeed, if we do something about that hearing loss, it can actually decrease the risk of developing dementia," said Michele Michaels, the hearing health-care program manager at the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Prescription hearing aids can be costly, and Medicare doesn’t cover them. But compared to dementia?

"The cost of hearing health care, when you look at it that point, is really cheap compared to the cost of Alzheimer's and related dementias," she said.

More than a million Arizonans have some kind of hearing loss, including between 350,000 and 400,000 are people over the age of 60. 

"Even in your 40s and 50s, it's a great idea to start getting your hearing tested, get an annual hearing screening; if you fail that screening, go ahead and get a hearing test at a licensed hearing aid dispenser or a licensed audiologist," Michaels said.

What about OTC options?

Last year, cheaper  over-the-counter hearing aids became available for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. 

"What the research shows is that about 2% of the people who are looking for hearing aids are buying the over-the-counter devices. And on average, they're spending about $200-$250. They're not getting into the more expensive technology of over-the-counter hearing aids," she said. Some OTC options can cost upward of $1,000.

The big takeaways for Michaels: Anyone over the age of 40 should get their hearing tested on an annual basis. 

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Senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.