Hearing Loss and Dementia
Unfortunately, there is still some stigma and misinformation surrounding hearing loss and what it entails. Many people still believe that hearing loss only effects our ability to hear, and that it can be ignored as long as a person can bear it. In fact, despite frustrating conversations and less enjoyment from social situations, the average American waits about seven years from the time they notice changes in their hearing to the time they reach out for help. Unfortunately, living with untreated hearing loss for any period of time has many negative effects on our health and quality of life.
Studies have found that untreated hearing loss can have a profoundly negative impact on our personal and professional relationships, earning potential, independence, safety and emotional well-being. On top of this and perhaps scariest of it all, untreated hearing loss has also been found to have an association with dementia.
What is Dementia?
Dementia in itself is actually not a condition, but rather a set of symptoms such as impaired cognitive functioning, including: thinking, reasoning, problem-solving and memory, as well as behavior. In order to be diagnosed with dementia, these factors must effect the person to such a degree that they interfere with their ability to complete activities of daily living. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form, accounting for about 60-80% of people with dementia.
The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer's Disease, is a gradual deterioration of the brain. A person with early stages of dementia may forget recently learned information or rely more heavily on alarms and reminders, while those with late-stage dementia completely depend on others to care for all of their living needs. At this time, there is no cure for dementia, however, treatment options do exist that can delay the progression of the disease and improve quality of life for many years after diagnosis.
How Dementia and Hearing Loss are Connected
There are many health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression that have been known risk factors for dementia for quite some time. Recent scientific research has revealed that hearing loss is also strongly correlated with an increased risk for developing dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. In 2011, Frank Lin and his research team at Johns Hopkins University made a shocking discovery. They found that participants with mild hearing loss were twice as likely as peers without hearing loss to develop dementia. For those with severe hearing loss, the risk increased to a staggering five times that of peers without hearing loss (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_and_dementia_linked_in_study). This discovery sparked a wave of new research on the correlation of hearing loss and dementia in the scientific community. The studies revealed similar results: that untreated hearing loss increases the risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
This correlation is clearly interesting, and researchers are still a bit unsure as to why it exists. Two theories have emerged that attempt to explain the connection. One theory looks into the fact that our brain has a limited amount or resources. When these valuable resources are being extended to a person straining to hear, less are reserved for other tasks such as problem solving or memory - thus potentially causing dementia. The other theory is associated with social isolation. With untreated hearing loss, people tend to withdraw socially, as conversations in groups or noisy environments become increasingly frustrating. Social isolation and lack of human connection have long been known risk factors for dementia.
Hearing Aids and Dementia
Luckily, studies have found that hearing aids can play a critical role in helping delay onset or progression of dementia. Treating hearing loss is was recently recognized as the number one modifiable risk factor fir dementia, ahead of quitting smoking, treating depression, and increasing exercise (https://www.bbc.com/news/health-40655566). Studies have also found that using hearing aids significantly slows progression of dementia symptoms and cognitive decline compared to people of the same age who choose not to treat their hearing loss (https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/181/9/680/84516).
If you are worried about either changes in your memory and problem solving or your hearing, it is important to reach out to a hearing healthcare provider as soon as possible. If you live in the Huntington Beach area, we would love an opportunity to work with you.
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