A Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia

A Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia

Age related hearing loss is the most common cause of hearing loss affecting 1 in 3 people over 65 and half of those 75 and older. If you are reaching this achievement in age, then it is a good idea to stay on top of your hearing health. Issues with hearing not only affect your ability to connect to the people in your life, but can affect mood, self-esteem, physical health and sense of independence. To make matters worse, untreated hearing loss has been linked to listening fatigue which causes the brain to strain as it interprets sound with limited information. As the brain receives less information overtime it can even start to shrink or atrophy which increases the likeliness of developing dementia sooner or at all. 

The Risk of Dementia Increases as Hearing Becomes Worse

Hearing loss is a progressive issue, presenting itself subtly at first and growing worse over time. Because of this, it is often difficult to detect a hearing loss before it becomes more serious. The danger of letting hearing loss progress is that as your hearing loss worsens, the risk of developing dementia increases. Individuals with moderate hearing loss are 3 times more likely to develop dementia but as hearing loss becomes more severe this risk increases to 5 times as much! 

Even so, studies have found even a mild hearing loss increases your risk to twice as much as someone with healthy hearing. A slight hearing loss is measured at a loss of 15 decibels and may manifest as trouble hearing in noisy environments with no trouble in other settings. A recent study found that even people with a slight hearing loss performed lower on cognitive tests compared to people with healthy hearing. For every 10-decibel increase in hearing loss, the extra risk for dementia jumps by 20 percent. 

Brain Strain and Hearing Loss

When people go without treating their hearing for too long auditory deprivation can occur as your brain actually becomes deprived of audio information. When you don’t use these auditory functions, your brain can fall out of practice of processing sounds as it begins to shrink or atrophy. audiologist Jenilee P. Pulido, AuD, of HearCare Audiology Center in Sarasota, Fla says “ Auditory deprivation is when the brain has difficulty understanding and processing information due to the lack of stimulation.”

When fewer sounds make their way to the brain, the brain reacts by shifting how it operates. A 2014 study found that even a minor hearing loss can cause the parts of your brain that handle auditory processing to switch to visual processing instead. This process can be stressful for anyone. As the brain becomes overwhelmed in conversation and struggles to keep up with conversations with limited information it can become overwhelmed or suffer from listening fatigue. Straining to hear day after day can deplete mental energy and impacts other parts of the thinking process such as remembering, thinking, and acting. This can further increase the risk of an earlier onset of dementia or any dementia at all.

Hearing Loss And Social Isolation

It is well understood that a healthy social life is imperative for seniors in order to stay engaged, excited and connected to the life they love. With the prevalence of age-related hearing loss, it is important to make sure you can hear clearly in order to stay social, healthy and happy into your golden years. A study by The National Council on the Aging (NCOA) examined 2,300 hearing impaired adults and found those with untreated hearing loss were  more likely to experience loneliness, worry, depression, anxiety, and paranoia. These hearing-impaired seniors were also more likely to avoid joining groups, volunteering and exploring hobbies they were excited about. As seniors withdraw from social life the risk of dementia increases significantly.

How Hearing Aids Can Help 

While hearing loss in most cases is irreversible it can be treated rather effectively with hearing aids. Hearing aids amplify the specific sounds you struggle with and send them to the inner ear to be effectively processed by the brain. When people invest in hearing aids and commit to wearing them every day, they can participate in conversations that may have in the past caused listening fatigue. Their brains will not be as strained and they can stay social, engaged and connected to the life they love. 

If you suspect that you have even a slight hearing loss, don’t delay in having your hearing tested. The sooner you identify and deal with a hearing problem, the sooner you can go back to enjoying the life you love! Contact us today