You may already realize much of the impact hearing loss can have on one’s day-to-day. Everything from travel, exercise, and social interactions may be affected by a hearing loss. Although we often realize these effects, the general perception is that hearing loss is a relatively inconsequential part of aging. However, recent studies suggest that hearing loss may play a more important role in brain health than was previously thought. In particular, these studies point to a link between hearing loss and dementia.
Fast Facts About Hearing Loss and Dementia
- Approximately 20%, or 48 million Americans are living with hearing loss.
- Approximately 1.6%, or 5 million Americans are living with dementia.
- Older adults with hearing loss, particularly men, are 69 percent more likely to develop dementia than those with no hearing impairment.
- Individuals with mild hearing impairment (25 dB) are nearly twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those with normal hearing. This risk increases three-fold for those with moderate hearing loss, and five-fold for those with severe impairment.
What’s the Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia?
Of course, the findings of these studies begs the question, “why?” There are a few reasons researchers believe there is a connection between hearing loss and dementia.
The temporal lobes are sections of the brain that are responsible for both hearing and memory, along with language and meaning. When these areas of the brain grow inactive, it results in tissue loss and changes in physical brain structure. Studies show that the brains of individuals with hearing loss shrink, or atrophy, more quickly than the brains of people with normal hearing, thus leaving greater risk for memory loss.
When it’s difficult to hear, the brain is forced to work overtime to understand what people are saying. Straining to hear all day, every day, depletes a person’s mental energy and uses brain power that is needed for other crucial functions like remembering, thinking, and language. When a brain is constantly overloaded by straining to hear, this can further set the stage for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
According to a study by The National Council on the Aging, hearing-impaired adults with untreated hearing loss are more likely to experience worry, depression, loneliness, anxiety, and are less likely to join social activities. Like any part of the body, the brain needs to be exercised to function most efficiently. When a person withdraws from social interaction, their risk for dementia may intensify due to less stimulation. In short, the less our brains are stimulated by interaction with other people, places, and things – and the less our brains are used to hear – the more quickly they decline, putting us at greater risk for dementia.
So, What Can You Do About It?
Of course, being at a higher risk for dementia does not necessarily mean that you will develop dementia. But why leave it to chance? There are a few things you can do to reduce your risk.
Get Your Hearing Checked by an Audiologist
Because hearing loss often increases gradually over time, many people who have mild hearing loss do not even realize it. One easy way to protect your hearing health is to simply have your hearing checked. Start with this free online hearing test. It’s a fast, easy way to learn about your hearing. Early identification and treatment of a potential hearing loss can help to minimize risks later in life.
Wear Hearing Aids
Studies have shown that hearing aids not only improve a person’s hearing, but they also help to preserve a person’s independence, mental abilities, emotional and physical health, and work, home, and social lives. Because the brain will be able to function properly and more easily, a hearing aid can actually help reduce brain atrophy. A full, happy life keeps your brain active and healthy.
In addition to helping reduce one’s risk of developing dementia, hearing aids may also help those who have already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For those with Alzheimer’s, hearing loss can often aggravate symptoms. Undiagnosed hearing loss symptoms are often mistaken for Alzheimer’s symptoms. A hearing impairment makes it difficult to listen, reply, and respond to verbal cues. This may escalate to feelings of confusion or isolation. One study found that hearing aids slowed the rate of memory decline and improved the quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients with hearing loss.
Find a Hearing Care Partner
Having a trusted hearing care partner is an important step toward hearing health. Luckily, finding a great hearing care in Indianapolis is easy. The compassionate, experienced audiologists at Whisper Hearing Centers are eager to help you improve your quality of life through healthy hearing. Visit one of our 13 central Indiana locations, send us a message, or give us a call today.