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When it comes to healthy aging and keeping your memory sharp, here's one idea you may not have considered. Get your hearing checked, your ears. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports a new study finds people who restore hearing loss with hearing aids actually slow down memory loss.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Of all the things that can cause friction in a marriage, you might not put hearing on the list - that is, until the person you love begins to lose it. That's what happened to Carrie and Lucien Johnson.
CARRIE JOHNSON: I was tired of screaming. You had to scream real loud for him to understand.
AUBREY: It was bothering you.
C. JOHNSON: Yes it was. It was running my pressure up and everything.
AUBREY: And her husband, Lucien Johnson, felt it too.
LUCIEN JOHNSON: I know that it was causing trouble because at times, you think I'm just ignoring you, which it wasn't. I just didn't hear what you're saying. So when you can't communicate with someone close to you, then that's the last thing.
AUBREY: So a few weeks ago, Lucien Johnson was fitted with hearing aids. And audiologist Dina Rollins says, as with many of her patients, his hearing is now better.
DINA ROLLINS: Stimulating your ears stimulates the nerves that stimulate your brain. So we're giving your ears back what they're missing and really giving your brain what it needs to make sense of what you're hearing.
AUBREY: And here's another benefit that many people don't consider. When you restore your hearing, a whole lot of living can come back.
ROLLINS: Social isolation is a huge part of of hearing loss. And people will notice their loved ones withdrawing from conversation, not going out to family functions like they used to.
AUBREY: It's not just the loss of social stimulation. The latest evidence shows when people cannot hear well, memory loss can set in faster. Piers Dawes is an experimental psychologist at the University of Manchester in the U.K. He wanted to understand this better. So he and some colleagues designed a study. It included thousands of healthy older adults in the U.S.
PIERS DAWES: And we looked at the trajectory and decline in their memory performance before and after they started using a hearing aid.
AUBREY: They did this through a series of cognitive assessments performed every two years for 16 years. The way it worked, a research assistant would visit participants in their homes and give the tests. One was a word recall test.
DAWES: They had a list of 10 sort of random words. They're read out aloud to the participant. They're then asked to recall the words immediately.
AUBREY: And then, after a delay, they're asked to recall them again. Dawes says it turns out after the participants began wearing hearing aids, their rate of recall changed. It wasn't a huge difference. But it was measurable.
DAWES: It's a very intriguing result. I mean, we weren't expecting that hearing aid use would completely eliminate cognitive decline 'cause that's just not going to happen. But what we've found is that it just slows the rate at which cognitive decline proceeds.
AUBREY: So many factors play into healthy aging, and Dawes says good hearing can be one of them. So it's important to understand the benefits. Carrie and Lucien Johnson say hearing aids have made a big difference.
C. JOHNSON: Well, he can hear me now. I don't have to say - yell real loud.
L. JOHNSON: Right. I would definitely (unintelligible).
AUBREY: What do you like to bug him about?
C. JOHNSON: Getting up. He likes to stay in bed. Yes, get up, time to get up.
L. JOHNSON: What's wrong with you? Why don't you move around more? (Laughter). But - well, she's a wonderful wife.
AUBREY: Lucien Johnson is 92 years old. And at this age, it's nice to have a problem you can fix. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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