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The Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia

an older man holding a hand to his ear

As we get older, we typically become a greater risk for developing a host of health issues. However, two of them, in particular, have recently been shown to have a deeper link to one another than previously thought. Hearing loss affects adults of all ages but is typically more common in those over 65 years of age.

Dementia fits much the same description. Here, we’re going to take a closer look at the link between the two, and how to protect yourself if you’re worried that potential or existing hearing loss may increase your risk of dementia.

The prevalence of hearing loss

Hearing loss is one of the most common forms of chronic health issues in America, affecting approximately 48 million people. Hearing loss can affect people of all ages, but the age group that is most likely to develop it are those over 65. Roughly over a third of all people 65 and over have some form of hearing loss.

As such, it’s important to talk about not only how to prevent and treat hearing loss itself, but also the health issues that are directly tied to it. Recent studies have shown that is a significant correlation between dementia and hearing loss, which means we should take the time to learn about this condition and the link between the two, as well.

About dementia

Dementia is best understood not as a specific condition but rather a syndrome, a collection of related symptoms that are all caused by the same root cause. In this case, the root cause is a decline in brain function, that can result in symptoms such as memory loss, mental processing speed, language skill loss, mood changes and a continuing lack of independence.

While there are similarities between the two, dementia and Alzheimer’s are two different terms. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, but vascular dementia is another type. These two together make up the majority of cases of dementia. Dementia typically gets more severe over time, but there are ways to treat it to slow this progression, as well as to prevent it to some degree.

The link between hearing loss and dementia

Recent research has found an increased risk of dementia in those who experience hearing loss. For instance, one 2013 study, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, found that people with hearing loss at a severity that could interfere conversations were 24% more likely to receive a diagnosis of dementia than those who had no or less severe forms of hearing loss.

The exact relationship between hearing loss and dementia is not fully understood, but there are prevailing theories and evidence that points to the likelihood of these theories. For instance, untreated hearing loss has been known to lead to a higher risk of isolation. Isolation is widely considered as one of the greatest risk factors in dementia diagnoses.

There is also the notion that untreated hearing loss forces people to deal with a higher cognitive load. When your brain is effectively straining to deal with more information, this can stress the brain, which can be a risk factor of dementia. There is also some evidence that hearing loss changes the structure of the brain in ways that make dementia a higher risk.

How the conditions influence one another

As well as being a causal risk factor, hearing loss can also aggravate people who live with dementia, causing them to experience negative symptoms more strongly. For instance, hearing impairments can reduce a person’s ability to hear, understand and reply to the world and people around them. This can cause further confusion, fear and isolation. As such, treating hearing loss is just as important for people with dementia as for those without, if not even more crucial to their quality of life.

What you can do

We still lack evidence on how treatments for hearing loss can affect your risk factors of dementia. However, if some of the prevailing theories are true, then there is a not-insignificant chance that the quality-of-life improvements that hearing aids offer could work in your favor. Hearing aids help with communication, for instance, which can prevent isolation.

They also make it so that you don’t have to strain to hear people as often, which can lower the cognitive load associated with the higher levels of stress that are another risk factor of dementia.

The first step to a healthier lifestyle is always intervention, and your audiologist is here to help with that. To learn more about the services at The Center for Audiology and how we can help you, you can call our Houston office at 713-255-0035 or call our Pearland office at 713-800-5050.