Helping elderly hear better 

Hearing researchers at Linköping University are addressing the hearing problems of the elderly. The aim is to improve the quality of life of the millions of elderly who suffer from hearing loss.

“Pardon? What was that?” Most of us feel awkward when we don’t hear properly. And this feeling increases with age, as our hearing deteriorates and communication gets more difficult. 

In a new research project, researchers will explore a number of questions relating to hearing loss. In particular, what its causes are. Other aims are to develop more efficient hearing aids and to improve diagnostics.

Professor Anders Fridberger, from the world-leading research group Linnaeus Centre HEAD, will investigate whether drugs can be suitable for the treatment of hearing loss.

“Studies of animals have shown that drugs can protect the inner ear’s receptors from injury – and in some cases, even help them regrow. But before they can be used in humans, the drugs must have fewer side effects”, says Anders Fridberger. Anders Fridberger Photo credit Thor Balkhed

His office is at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, next to the University Hospital, which many of the patients with hearing loss attend.

But can drugs help against hearing loss? Anders Fridberger thinks so. His research team will conduct the first clinical trial of a method where a drug is injected through the eardrum. They hope the drug will protect the ear against damage caused by loud sounds, or slow the development of hearing loss.

The link between hearing loss and dementia will also be an important field of study for the researchers at HEAD in the years to come. If we can understand the relationship between hearing loss and dementia, we will be one step closer to understanding how to prevent the development of dementia.

“When your hearing deteriorates, your quality of life is affected and the risk of social isolation, depression and dementia increases. With severe hearing loss, the likelihood of developing dementia increases five-fold”, says Anders Fridberger.

Professor Mary Rudner will investigate age-related changes in cognition, and see how they relate to a decline in hearing. In a recent study, she and her colleagues present results indicating that the brain shrinks when hearing deteriorates.

“People with poorer hearing have less tissue in the parts of the brain that deal with sound and memory”, says Mary Rudner.

What is new in Mary Rudner’s research is that she identifies similar effects in people who do not have an actual hearing impairment, but whose hearing is getting worse.

“This means that hearing status has more far-reaching consequences for our well-being than we previously believed”, she says. ProfessorMary Rudners research interest is in the link between language and memory Photo credit David Brohede

Mary Rudner and Anders Fridberger have two completely different points of departure for their research. She is a cognitive scientist who explores memory, language and cognition; he is a physician who studies the inner ear’s receptors.

“This project brings together physiologists, engineers, doctors and cognitive neuroscientists, working towards a common goal. That’s a strength”, says Anders Fridberger.


Related content

Latest news from LiU