Hearing Loss and Dementia: What’s the Connection?

HEARING TIPS

Hearing test showing ear of senior man with sound waves simulation technology

If you start talking about dementia at your next family gathering, you will most likely put a dark cloud over the whole event.

Dementia is not a topic most people are intentionally looking to discuss, mainly because it’s rather scary. Dementia, which is a degenerative cognitive disease, makes you lose touch with reality, experience memory loss, and brings about an over-all loss of mental faculties. Nobody wants to go through that.

For this reason, many individuals are looking for a way to counter, or at least delay, the development of dementia. There are some clear connections, as it turns out, between dementia and untreated hearing loss.

That may seem a bit… surprising to you. After all, what does your brain have to do with your ears (a lot, actually)? Why does hearing loss increase the risk of dementia?

What occurs when your hearing impairment goes untreated?

You realize that you’re starting to lose your hearing, but it’s not at the top of your list of worries. You can just turn up the volume, right? Maybe, when you watch your favorite program, you’ll just turn on the captions.

Or maybe your hearing loss has gone unnoticed so far. Perhaps the signs are still easy to dismiss. Mental decline and hearing impairment are clearly linked either way. That’s because of the effects of neglected hearing loss.

  • It becomes harder to understand conversations. You could start to keep yourself secluded from others because of this. You can withdraw from family, friends, and loved ones. You won’t talk with others as often. This kind of social separation is, well, not good for your brain. Not to mention your social life. What’s more, many people who cope with hearing loss-related social isolation don’t even realize it’s happening, and they probably won’t attribute their isolation to their hearing.
  • Your brain will begin to work a lot harder. When you have untreated hearing loss, your ears don’t get nearly as much audio information (this is kind of obvious, yes, but stay with us). This will leave your brain filling in the missing gaps. This is unbelievably taxing. Your brain will then have to get extra energy from your memory and thinking centers (at least that’s the current concept). The thinking is that over time this contributes to dementia (or, at least, helps it along). Your brain working so hard can also result in all manner of other symptoms, such as mental stress and exhaustion.

You might have thought that your hearing loss was more innocuous than it really is.

One of the leading signs of dementia is hearing loss

Let’s say you have only slight hearing loss. Like, you can’t hear whispers, but everything else is normal. Well, turns out you’re still twice as likely to get dementia as someone who doesn’t have hearing loss.

So one of the preliminary indications of dementia can be even minor hearing loss.

So… How should we understand this?

Well, it’s important not to forget that we’re dealing with risk here. Hearing loss is not a guarantee of cognitive decline or even an early symptom of dementia. It does mean that later in life you will have a greater chance of developing cognitive decline. But that might actually be good news.

Because it means that effectively managing your hearing loss can help you decrease your risk of dementia. So how can hearing loss be addressed? There are several ways:

  • Set up an appointment with us to identify your existing hearing loss.
  • Wearing a hearing aid can help reduce the affect of hearing loss. Now, can hearing aids prevent dementia? That’s hard to say, but hearing aids can improve brain function. Here’s the reason why: You’ll be capable of participating in more conversations, your brain won’t need to work as hard, and you’ll be a bit more socially involved. Research indicates that managing hearing loss can help reduce your danger of developing dementia in the future. That’s not the same as preventing dementia, but it’s a good thing nonetheless.
  • You can take some measures to protect your hearing from further damage if you detect your hearing loss soon enough. For example, you could avoid noisy events (such as concerts or sports games) or wear hearing protection when you’re around anything noisy (for example, if you work with heavy machinery).

Other ways to lower your dementia risk

You can minimize your chance of dementia by doing some other things as well, of course. This could include:

  • Quit smoking. Seriously. Smoking will increase your chance of dementia as well as impacting your overall health (excess alcohol use can also go on this list).
  • Make sure you get plenty of sleep each night. Some studies have linked an increased risk of dementia to getting fewer than four hours of sleep every night.
  • A diet that keeps your blood pressure down and is generally healthy can go a long way. For people who naturally have higher blood pressure, it may be necessary to use medication to bring it down.
  • Get some exercise.

Of course, scientists are still researching the connection between dementia, hearing loss, lifestyle, and more. There are a multitude of causes that make this disease so complex. But any way you can decrease your risk is good.

Being able to hear is its own advantage

So, hearing better will help lower your overall risk of developing dementia in the future. But it isn’t just your future golden years you’ll be improving, it’s now. Imagine, no more missed discussions, no more garbled misunderstandings, no more silent and lonely trips to the grocery store.

It’s no fun losing out on life’s important moments. And a little bit of hearing loss management, perhaps in the form of a hearing aid, can help considerably.

So make sure to schedule an appointment with us right away!

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References

https://publichealth.jhu.edu/2021/hearing-loss-and-the-dementia-connection

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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