The relationship between hearing loss and dementia

The relationship between hearing loss and dementia.jpgHearing loss can affect more than just your hearing. It can be a factor in many health problems, including diabetes, cardiovascular health, risk of falls, problems sleeping, and depression. And a new study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has recently linked hearing loss in older adults to a higher risk for dementia.

If you’re having difficulty hearing, don’t delay scheduling an appointment with an audiologist. There’s too much at stake.

Here’s more on the relationship between hearing loss and dementia.

How we hear and why hearing diminishes with age

Our inner ears have tiny hair cells that help us hear. These hair cells pick up the sound waves and then change them into nerve signals that we can interpret as sound. When these hair cells are damaged or die, they do not regrow, making it more difficult for us to hear as we get older. Though there is no single cause of hearing loss, age-related changes in the inner ear are the most common cause. Changes to the middle ear or the nerve pathways connecting the ears to the brain, as well as environmental factors, medications, and genes can also play a factor in age-related hearing loss.  

Early signs of hearing loss and the benefits of testing

Talking to a loved one about hearing loss can no doubt be a difficult conversation. However, having this talk as soon as you see early signs of hearing loss, and encouraging your loved one to get a hearing test, can help slow down the progression of impairment, as well as reduce the risks of dementia and other health problems.

Here are some early warning signs:

  • Your loved one asks you to repeat yourself often.
  • Communication with your loved one is declining; you feel like they don’t listen to you.
  • The volume on the TV or radio is always turned up very high.
  • Your loved one has become withdrawn, easily frustrated, or irritable.

The link between hearing loss and cognitive impairment

As we age, our brains shrink, and this can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that when hearing loss occurs, the brain’s shrinkage occurs faster than when hearing loss is not a factor. The researchers also found that, the greater the hearing loss, the greater the loss of brain tissue every year.

As a result, older adults with just mild hearing loss are twice as likely to eventually suffer from cognitive impairment. Those with severe hearing loss, on the other hand, are five times more likely to develop dementia. Hearing loss also exacerbates many symptoms of dementia when they’re already present, including the inability to learn new tasks, impaired memory, diminished alertness, irritability, stress, and fatigue, among others.

In addition, although the relationship between hearing loss and dementia isn’t conclusive, some researchers theorize that the strain we face to decode sounds over time might overwhelm our brains if we have hearing loss, causing us to be more vulnerable to cognitive decline. Hearing loss can also lead to social isolation, which is a known risk factor for cognitive disorders.

More research on the link between hearing loss and dementia is required. Researchers plan to conduct another study in the future to learn if early treatment of hearing loss can help prevent, or delay, the development of dementia.

How to help manage hearing loss for loved ones with dementia

Denial is the top obstacle to hearing aid use. Speaking to your loved one about hearing loss as soon as signs begin to show, and encouraging them to get a hearing test and hearing aids, if recommended, can help improve hearing, as well as potentially reduce the risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

If you believe your loved one is experiencing hearing loss, request an appointment with Associated Audiologists.