It is not uncommon for people to experience hearing loss as they age. In fact, approximately one in three people over 65 have some type of hearing impairment.
However, while it was once considered a part of aging, recent research suggests hearing loss may have a more significant impact on other elements of health and aging than previously realized.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a broad term that describes a decline in cognitive function and memory that is severe enough to interfere with daily activities and social relationships.
Dementia is not a specific disease, but it instead represents a group of symptoms that are associated with various underlying conditions or disorders. Most commonly, dementia involves a progressive decline in memory, thinking, language, and/or reasoning skills. Changes in mood, behavior, and personality also occur. Common dementia types include Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and Lewy body dementia.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for dementia, but early diagnosis and treatment may help to slow its progression and improve the individual’s quality of life. Management of dementia typically involves a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and supportive therapies to address symptoms and promote independence and social engagement.
How We Define Hearing Loss
It is also important to define what we mean when discussing hearing loss. Permanent or Sensorineural hearing loss refers to any permanently reduced ability to hear sounds and speech.
The level of hearing loss can range from mild to profound and may affect one or both ears. People with hearing loss may have difficulty understanding speech, hearing sounds, and following conversations, especially in noisy environments. They may also experience ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and feel isolated or depressed due to communication difficulties. The effects of hearing loss can change our relationships, our daily activities, and can reduce our quality of life.
Hearing loss has many causes, including age-related changes in the ear, exposure to loud noise, certain medications, infections, and genetic factors. Treatment for hearing loss depends on the cause and severity of the condition, but it might include the use of hearing aids, assistive listening devices, and communication strategies.
Early detection and treatment of hearing loss are important as it can improve communication, social interactions, and overall quality of life.
Is There a Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia?
Recent studies out of Johns Hopkins University have shown a correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline.
In their study, individuals with hearing loss were at a higher risk of developing dementia. After examining a nationally representative dataset of 2,413 individuals, around half of this group was over 80. The data showed that the prevalence of dementia was 61% higher in individuals with moderate-to-severe hearing loss than in individuals with normal hearing. And of the 853 participants with moderate-or-severe hearing loss, hearing aid use was associated with a 32% lower prevalence of dementia. These results suggest that older adults with severe hearing loss may have a higher risk of developing dementia, and individuals who use hearing aids have a lower likelihood of developing dementia than those who do not.
Benefits of Early Hearing Loss Treatment
Early diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss could help reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life. Researchers have found that hearing aids can improve cognitive function, leading to a higher quality of life for those with hearing loss.
Improved Quality of Life
Hearing loss can significantly affect an individual’s quality of life as it can lead to social isolation, depression, and a decreased ability to participate in daily activities. However, treating hearing loss with hearing aids can improve an individual’s quality of life and allow them to have a more active lifestyle.
By enhancing an individual’s ability to communicate and engage with others, hearing devices can help reduce feelings of isolation and improve overall well-being. This allows individuals to live young and stay socially engaged.
Mitigating Cognitive Losses
Brain imaging studies have found that even mild hearing loss can activate non-language processing areas, indicating an increased risk of dementia. The brain’s auditory centers degenerate without enough auditory stimulation and input due to hearing loss.
Long-term studies tracking brain changes in 126 individuals found that hearing loss accelerates brain shrinkage and atrophy, particularly in memory-related brain regions.
Early treatment of hearing loss may help prevent further significant brain shrinkage and reduce the risk of developing issues such as dementia or other cognitive impairments. By taking swift action to address hearing loss, individuals may be able to protect their long-term cognitive functioning and overall health.
Better Hearing Means Better Brain Function
Our hearing system plays a vital role in stimulating and providing input to the brain. When our auditory stimulation is removed and we experience hearing loss, the brain does not receive the auditory input it needs. The social implications from hearing loss can also reduce use of the brain allowing dementia to enter. By staying active and reducing listening fatigue, those risks can be mitigated.
This is why it is so important to seek treatment if you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss, even in earlier stages. Not only can early treatment potentially reduce the risk of developing dementia, but it can also improve your overall quality of life.
At Chicago Hearing Services, we’re committed to helping our patients maintain their cognitive function and overall well-being through comprehensive hearing care. Be sure to schedule an appointment with us if you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss—the sooner we can address the issue, the better.