By Andrew M. Seaman

(Reuters Health) - Cognition, social interactions and quality of life may improve for older people with hearing loss when hearing is restored with a cochlear implant, according to a study from France.

One year after getting an implant, participants between the ages of 65 and 85 were able to hear words more clearly. Also, most had improved cognitive abilities and fewer of them reported symptoms of depression.

"We know older adults, when they don't hear well, withdraw and begin to get depressed," said Dr. Colin Driscoll, chair of otorhinolaryngology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Driscoll, who was not involved in the new study, said other research also shows that the lives of older people tend to improve after receiving hearing aids. "I think we've known that in a way for quite some time," he said.

For the new study, researchers with the French national public-assistance hospital network at Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris examined data on 94 patients between 2006 and 2009 before receipt of a cochlear implant and then six and 12 months afterward.

After one year, the participants were better able to understand words in both loud and quiet settings, said Dr. Isabelle Mosnier and her coauthors, writing in JAMA Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery.

Quality of life scores improved, too.

"The biggest advantage of cochlear implants is that it can restore clarity," Driscoll said. "Many patients not only have a problem with volume, but also clarity."

Of the 37 participants with abnormal cognition scores at the start, 30 had improved cognition after having the implant for one year.

Among all the participants, 59% showed no signs of depression before implantation. A year afterward, 76% had no signs of depression.

The researchers note that their results are limited to what happens after one year. Other studies show that people who receive cochlear implants continue to use the devices for years, however.

Driscoll said cochlear implants are covered by most insurance plans, but people often have to meet a certain level of hearing loss before they're eligible. That bar is especially high for Medicare, the U.S. insurance for the elderly and disabled, he added.

While hearing aids range in price from low-cost versions to several thousand dollars, Driscoll said cochlear implants can cost up to $20,000 for just the device. "When you outgrow conventional hearing aids, that's when you're a cochlear implant (candidate)," he said. "Many patients who are using hearing aids now will do better with a cochlear implant."


JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2015.