When it comes to our abilities to connect with loved ones, the possibility of dementia can cause great fear. The many forms of this condition limit the ability of the mind to process and hold information, and the worst cases can disconnect one moment from the next in the conscious mind. Though family members who support loved ones with dementia find other ways to connect, verbal communication can be one of the greatest difficulties. The fragmented thinking between past and present can make it hard to communicate as we did in the past.
Each May, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association celebrates Better Hearing and Speech Month with a special theme, but you might wonder how this year’s theme “Building Connections” relates with dementia. Research has demonstrated a strong connection between dementia and hearing loss, and it seems that those who have untreated hearing loss are much more likely to develop dementia than their counterparts without hearing loss.
While researchers continue to investigate this connection, they have discovered relieving provisional results that proper use of hearing aids can eliminate that connection between hearing loss and dementia. Those who use hearing aids appear to be no different than those with no hearing loss at all when it comes to the risk of dementia. Let’s consider how hearing loss treatment can help us maintain connections with our loved ones and even build them in depth and strength.
Dementia and Hearing Loss
Again and again, research shows that there is a statistical correlation between hearing loss and dementia, even controlling for other factors. Not only are those with untreated hearing loss more likely to develop dementia, but they also demonstrate a faster decline in cognitive functioning once the condition sets in. Researchers have witnessed the connection in brain imaging between those who have even slight hearing loss at a young age and those who do not. It seems that some of the cognitive functioning that is usually devoted to complex thought and language processing is redistributed to trying to decipher sound. If this repurposing of the brain continues over time, many speculate that dementia can set in, spilling over to other regions of cognition that are not directly hearing related. Dementia is a condition that fragments our thinking, and that fragmentation can affect our connections with family members, as well. The fear and frustration that many people with dementia experience can spread to loved ones, making them concerned for the emotional wellbeing of their family members who have dementia.
Hearing Loss Treatment
Although the connection between dementia and hearing loss continues to be explored, researchers have witnessed a promising trend. Those who are diagnosed with hearing loss but who get treatment right away do not appear to have any higher risk of dementia than those with no hearing loss at all. Of course, there is risk in the entire population for dementia, but the added risk caused by untreated hearing loss seems to disappear for those who wear hearing aids. In terms of research, this finding helps us solve the puzzle of the relationship between the two conditions. It does not seem that the physical experience of hearing damage is to blame but rather the social and conversational process of missing sounds in language. This finding is particularly good news for those who have already had a diagnosis of hearing loss. Not only are they able to use hearing aids to better connect with their loved ones, but they are also set up for continued cognitive health later in life. Continued use of hearing aids provides a steady stream of meaningful auditory information, keeping the mind sharp and agile.
On the other hand, if you have a loved one with hearing loss who does not use hearing aids or other assistive treatment, the time is now to encourage a visit for a hearing test. Our hearing health professionals can administer a thorough diagnostic assessment to establish the right kind of hearing aids for your needs. With that information in hand, we can point you toward hearing aids that can not only improve conversational comfort and understanding but also can have a lasting effect on cognitive functioning.