The Link Between Cochlear Implants and Dementia

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Hearing loss has more impacts on an elderly person than you might think. 

Whether it’s your dad, your grandmother, your spouse, or even you, we all know someone who suffers from age-related hearing loss. In fact, 50% of people older than 75 experience disabling hearing loss. Now, doctors are using cochlear implants to restore hearing and save lives.

102-year-old Irvin Poff survived WWII but is still feeling the impact 80 years later.

Ear surgeon, Akira Ishiyama, MD, says, “In the past, when you're flying a bomber, there really wasn't any concept of hearing protection. Hearing loss, in this age group, is quite important to treat because it could the deteriorate dementia or make the dementia worse.”

A new study found people over 75 with hearing loss are nearly twice as likely to develop dementia and lose their cognitive abilities up to 40% more quickly than people without a hearing problem.

Until recently, someone Poff’s age would not be considered for a cochlear implant, which is a small electronic device that electrically stimulates the cochlear nerve, but now, he’s become one of the oldest people to receive this life-changing technology.

“We also have a technology to combine the use of a hearing aid and a cochlear implant called the hybrid technology. By doing both, taking advantage of the hearing aid and an implant, we can help patients who have some hearing in a low frequency, but no hearing in the mid and higher frequencies.”

The combination of the two technologies took Poff’s hearing from 30 to 60%.

“My understanding of words is almost twice what it was before,” Poff explains.

Dementia is not the only risk factor associated with hearing loss. If you suffer mild hearing loss you are three times more likely to fall, suffer from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer.

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