Health & Medicine

Hearing aids may ward off dementia, Columbia study finds

In a study of 100 seniors ages 80 to 99, Columbia University Medical Center researchers found that those wearing hearing aids performed better on standard cognition tests than those who did not. That was true even when the hearing-aid wearers had more acute hearing loss.

“Our study suggests that using a hearing aid may offer a simple, yet important, way to prevent or slow the development of dementia by keeping adults with hearing loss engaged in conversation and communication,” Dr. Anil K. Lalwani, a Columbia professor of head and neck surgery, said in a statement.

The study, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, found that seniors with hearing aids performed “significantly better” on the Mini-Mental State Examination, a questionnaire commonly used in medical settings to assess dementia.

According to the Columbia researchers, more than half of adults over age 75 have hearing loss, but fewer than 15 percent use a hearing aid. They noted that hearing-impaired elderly have a higher incidence of social isolation, dementia and death due to falls and accidents than those with no hearing loss. Other studies have shown that hearing aids can make up for some of the social, functional and emotional consequences of hearing loss.

Why kidney failure less likely in women

Researchers have long known that women have lower rates of kidney disease than men. Why? According to a new Austrian medical study, it could be because of female hormones.

Increased levels of certain enzymes during women’s menstrual cycles could protect against cell changes that lead to kidney disease, the researchers noted.

The results suggest that “cyclical changes in female hormones might affect kidney cell health, potentially providing women with an increased resistance against kidney damage,” Dr. Judith Lechner, a Medical University of Innsbruck researcher, said in a statement.

The study, appearing in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, noted that understanding the causes behind women’s lower risk of kidney failure could help researchers design better kidney therapies for women and men.

Does breast milk aid preemie brains?

Premature infants who were fed at least 50 percent breast milk in their first month had better brain development than those fed little or no breast milk.

That’s the conclusion of a recent study of 77 “preemies” – those born at least 10 weeks early – who were in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. By the time those babies had reached their original due date, those with a daily diet of mostly breast milk had grown more brain tissue, according to researchers with the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“As the amount of breast milk increased, so did a baby’s chances of having a larger (cortex) cortical surface area,” Erin Reynolds, a study co-author, said in a statement. “With MRI scans, we found that babies fed more breast milk had larger brain volumes.”

The study did not distinguish between breast milk from the baby’s mother and breast milk from another source.

Reynolds said the breast milk boost is important because other studies have shown a correlation between brain volume and cognitive development.

The Washington University research team plans to follow the babies through their first several years, focusing on their motor, cognitive and social development.

“We want to see whether this difference in brain size has an effect on any of those (children’s) developmental milestones,” said Dr. Cynthia Rogers, the study’s lead investigator and an assistant professor of child psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine. She said further investigation is needed to determine how and what component of breast milk seems to promote brain development.

Claudia Buck: 916-321-1968, @Claudia_Buck