Hearing Loss and Dementia
Hearing loss doesn’t just interfere with your abilities to hear other people. Indeed, there could be more long-term consequences. In more recent years, there have been increasing reports of a link between hearing loss and dementia.
Common symptoms of dementia include:
A recent study in the medical journal The Lancet reported that there were 46·8 million people with dementia across the world in 2015, and this number is estimated to increase to 131·5 million by 2050.
While the rising number of cases worldwide may make the disease appear unstoppable, the study authors claim that one in three cases of dementia can be avoided if more people took steps to look after their cognitive functions. They went on to list nine potential risk factors for developing dementia. One of those modifiable risk factors was hearing loss.
What is the link between hearing loss and dementia?
The evidence of a connection between dementia and hearing loss continues to grow. The two conditions are both linked with aging and are usually turn up at the same time as we age – most of those with dementia are over 70 almost 75% of those over 70 have hearing loss.
Even mild hearing loss can double the risk of developing dementia, and this rises to three times the risk with moderate hearing loss. Unsurprisingly, those with severe hearing loss harbor the highest risk, with five times the risk of a person without hearing loss.
What can explain the link between dementia and hearing loss? Though the body of research is still in its early stages, other research has suggested an explanation. A recent study by Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging Research has suggested that the brain work associated with decoding sounds over the years might lead to a kind of ‘cognitive overload’ in those with hearing loss, which leaves them more susceptible to dementia. The same authors speculate that hearing loss often leads to isolating themselves socially over the years, which is itself a risk factor for dementia.
Those with dementia can find it tough to communicate with others, including finding the correct words for what they want to get across. They will often take longer to process information during a conversation, especially if there are auditory and visual distractions. Some scientists say that this difficulty in processing information in busy places can be one of the first signs of cognitive impairment. As those with hearing loss may find it hard to hear conversations in noisy places, you can imagine why some confuse the two conditions.
What you can do today to reduce your risk
To reduce the risk of dementia, the usual advice is given to eat healthy and maintain a regular exercise routine. However, some experts recommend taking steps to manage your hearing loss through the use of hearing aids. Indeed, hearing aids have been linked to a reduction in the risk of dementia, falls, depression and social isolation.
Hearing aids help you with communication, which keeps you active in your most important social relationships. They also help ‘exercise’ the parts of the brain involved with auditory processing, keeping key parts of your cognitive functions sharp and may help reduce the risk of dementia as you get older.
Before you can take care of your brain, you need to take care of your hearing. That’s why it is important to get your hearing tested, and if you have hearing loss, to get hearing aids and manage your hearing. Although this seems like a daunting task, our professional and caring team are on hand to guide you through the process.