Update on Hearing Loss and Dementia
Numerous studies have been conducted in the past few years researching the relationship between hearing loss and dementia. Frank Lin, an E.N.T. doctor and epidemiologist, conducted a study that tracked the overall cognitive abilities (i.e., concentration, memory and planning skills) of nearly 2,000 older adults whose average age was 77. After six years, those with hearing loss severe enough to interfere with conversation were 24 percent more likely than those with normal hearing to see their cognitive abilities diminish. Essentially, the researchers said, hearing loss seemed to speed up age-related cognitive decline.
In another study focusing on dementia, Lin and his colleagues monitored the cognitive health of 639 people who were mentally sharp when the study began. The researchers tested the volunteers' mental abilities regularly, following most for about 12 years, and some for as long as 18 years. The results were striking: The worse the initial hearing loss was, the more likely the person was to develop dementia. Compared with people of normal hearing, those with moderate hearing loss had triple the risk.
There are three underlying theories as to why those with hearing loss may develop dementia or cognitive decline faster than those with normal hearing. One, there may be a common pathology that underlie both hearing loss and cognitive decline; two: the strain and extra energy of decoding sounds over time may overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss, leaving them more vulnerable to dementia; three: hearing loss could lead to dementia by making individuals more socially isolated—a known risk factor for dementia and other cognitive disorders.
It is important to note that simply being at increased risk does not mean a person is certain to develop dementia.
So can modern hearing aids help stimulate the brain in such a way to help prevent cognitive decline or dementia? The jury is still out, as a number of current studies are seeking to determine this, but the results so far look promising. Treating hearing loss with hearing aids has been known to decrease depression and social isolation. Hearing aids can give individuals with hearing loss improved ability to interact with others, engage in conversation and become more socially active. This increase in social activity has been theorized as a possible explanation to the early success of hearing aids in helping to stave off cognitive decline.
If you’re feeling left out of the conversation due to hearing loss, book an appointment with us today to have your hearing assessed.