Medical professionals have identified a relationship between hearing loss and dementia. Let’s review some basic facts first. The impact of audiology and memory care will exacerbate with an aging population. By 2050, the number of people older than 60 years will double, comprising 21 percent of the global population. As a result, those living with dementia will triple and cost nearly $2 trillion. 

Though the exact association between the two conditions has not been identified, recent studies have proposed several theories. First, there is a possibility that hearing loss and dementia share a common cause. Thus, hearing loss and cognitive decline occur in parallel. As the brain degrades, so does hearing. But statistically, that’s not proven true. A second theory proposes that hearing loss places an increased demand on cognitive resources. Thus, information degradation occurs as resources are removed from cognitive tasks to support hearing. In such a scenario, listening causes the brain to work harder, burning out. The last theory proposes that a person with hearing impairment withdraws from social engagement and, therefore, experiences less cognitive function to interact with their environment. 

The theory gaining the most traction is the second: that hearing loss places an increased demand on cognitive resources. Individuals who have untreated hearing loss (even mild untreated hearing loss) find social participation requires more brainpower, which drains mental effort. This process makes the brain more likely to develop dementia.

So, why am I posting this information on a blog? Well, I am one of those impacted by hearing loss. Additionally, I am 62 years old. Combining those two statistics with watching my father suffer from hearing loss made me want to get and use hearing aids. Yet, the years-long search for the perfect hearing aid was frustrating.

My first hearing aid was a TacTear, in-ear two-channel hearing aid. It had a couple of programs, that went from loud, louder, to excessively loud. The TacTear was cost-effective but not designed for my hearing loss. My second hearing aid was the Otofonix Elite. Otofonix positions itself as a hearing aid, with some essential hardware in pricey hearing aids. The Elite (my opinion) is a behind the ear (BTE) personal sound amplifier (PSAP) that purports to bring real-world hearing aid technology at a lower price point. I also invested in a set of Otofonix Encore. The enticement of dual directional microphones and advanced digital noise cancellation drew me to the Encore. However, the thought of having to show colleagues that I wear hearing aids (Gasp!!!) led me to try the Eargo Max (which had four preset programs), which led to the Eargo Neo (No longer offered), and Eargo Neo HiFi. I found the Eargo Neo HiFi the best of the bunch, offering user programable environments. However, my ear canals are smaller, and the fit became uncomfortable after several hours. From there, I found Audicus.

I took an online test and received the Audicus Wave (powered by a 312 hearing aid battery). The Wave (in my opinion) is manufactured by Unitron and closely resembles the Unitron Moxi Jump. It’s a solid hearing, but the auto program feature was fussy. Any volume adjustment above mid-level created a ‘shhhhh’ type of noise. Frustrated by that, I invested in a pair of Audicus Spirit(s), again a Unitron hearing aid based upon the Moxi/Moxi Jump. Unfortunately, long working hours and a few hours of music streaming meant the rechargeable hearing batteries died. So, I had to carry an extra set of hearing aids. However, the Audicus hearing aids are receiver-in-the-ear (RIC) and were some of the most comfortable hearing aids I’ve worn. But Audicus wasn’t my last.

The last set of hearing aids I tried was the Bose Sound Control Hearing Aids (a 312 battery-powered RIC hearing aid). However, to make the best of the product, you need a cell phone and the cell phone app, which enables the user to customize the hearing aids. Technically, you can operate the hearing aids (post setup) without the cell phone app, but you gain a complete user experience with the app.

After that long rant, what did I settle upon? After buying all that stuff (which I still have), my go-to pair of hearing aids is the Bose Sound Control Hearing Aids, and my backup pair is the Otofonix Elite. Why? After exhaustive research, I found that speech intelligibility was just as good with the Otofonix PSAP or better than hearing aids. My personal experience (mild-to-moderate hearing loss) is born out by research (National Library of Medicine and JAMA Network). However, hats off to Bose. The ability to control the hearing environment and create user-tailored (user-specific) programs is phenomenal. If the battery runs out, I can swap out a new battery and be ready to go. Also, the hearing aid curvature fits the back of my ear (mastoid) perfectly, even with wearing face masks. Last, at 62, I no longer care what colleagues think of me, hearing or otherwise.

So, you might be asking yourself, “So what?Older adults who get a hearing aid for hearing loss have a lower risk of being diagnosed with dementia, depression, or anxiety over the following three years, and a lower risk of suffering fall-related injuries, than those who leave their hearing loss uncorrected (Science Daily). And per NY Times writer Kim Tingley, “… hearing loss is rarely treated. In the US, only about 14 percent of hearing loss adults wear hearing aids. However, an emerging body of research suggests that diminished hearing may be a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia — and that the association between hearing loss and cognitive decline potentially begins at very low levels of impairment.” Therefore, if I can get a pair of PSAPs’ (like Otofonix Elite or another brand) and cut the risk of Alzheimer’s, then it’s worth the price. If you choose custom-programmed, then great. Please do it. 

I got my father and father a pair of Otofonix. My mother wears her hearing aids religiously. Unfortunately, my father refused to wear them. As a result, I watched my father die from a lengthy dementia battle (though COVID finally did him in). To this day, I can’t help but believe some of that pain may have been avoided had he gotten hearing aids at age 62. I can’t say that God and I have regular coffee table conversations, but I doubt people dying from dementia were in His plans. You do not have to be like my father. So, don’t.