VANCOUVER -- Social isolation is a frequent consequence of hearing loss, but a new study from the University of Michigan has found poor hearing may also be linked to dementia.

Michael Karpf decided to see an audiologist when he realized he couldn't hear a client when he was at work on a busy construction site. And he started to see a pattern in other areas of his life too.

"I was isolated from the people I was talking to," he says. "I would sit out conversations and tend to not respond properly."

Karpf's audiologist, Dr. Sandy Colonna, says she sees real improvement in her patients' quality of life once they can hear better. 

"They're more engaged," she says. "They're happier." 

But beyond alleviating social isolation, can hearing aids affect cognitive decline? 

"A recent study from the University of Michigan has found that using hearing aids is associated with a reduced risk of dementia and other problems," says Catherine Roberts with Consumer Reports. 

The study found that older people who received hearing aids within three years of a hearing loss diagnosis had lower rates of dementia, depression and even falls, than those who didn't get hearing aids. 

"It's too early to say definitively whether using hearing aids can reduce your risk of cognitive decline," Roberts says. "But using them can help improve how you understand and respond to other people." 

There are some red flags to look out for if you suspect you or someone you know may be experiencing hearing loss. Turning up the TV, frequently asking people to repeat themselves, or missing parts of phone conversations – all can be signs your ability to hear has changed. 

The problem could be fixable, like an infection, earwax build-up or a damaged ear drum, but it's important to get checked out. And if it does turn out that you do need a hearing aid, an audiologist can help figure out what would work best for you. 

With files from Consumer Reports