What’s the connection between hearing loss and dementia? Medical science has found a connection between brain health and hearing loss. It was found that even minor untreated hearing impairment raises your risk of developing cognitive decline.
These two seemingly unrelated health conditions could have a pathological link. So, how does loss of hearing put you at risk for dementia and how can a hearing test help combat it?
What is dementia?
The Mayo Clinic says that dementia is a cluster of symptoms that alter memory, alter the ability to think clearly, and reduce socialization skills. Individuals tend to think of Alzheimer’s disease when they hear dementia probably because it is a common form. Around five million people in the US are impacted by this progressive kind of dementia. Today, medical science has a complete understanding of how hearing health increases the risk of dementias like Alzheimer’s disease.
How hearing works
In terms of good hearing, every part of the complex ear component matters. Waves of sound go inside the ear canal and are boosted as they travel toward the inner ear. Inside the maze of the inner ear, little hair cells vibrate in response to the sound waves to send electrical impulses that the brain translates.
Over the years these tiny hairs can become irreversibly damaged from exposure to loud sound. The outcome is a decrease in the electrical impulses to the brain that makes it difficult to comprehend sound.
Research indicates that this slow loss of hearing isn’t only an irrelevant part of aging. Whether the impulses are unclear and garbled, the brain will try to decode them anyway. The ears can become strained and the brain fatigued from the additional effort to hear and this can ultimately result in a higher risk of developing dementia.
Here are several disease risk factors that have hearing loss in common:
- Trouble learning new skills
- Impaired memory
- Reduction in alertness
- Overall diminished health
The odds of developing dementia can increase depending on the extent of your hearing loss, also. Even slight hearing loss can double the risk of dementia. More advanced hearing loss means three times the risk and a person with extreme, neglected loss of hearing has up to five times the risk of developing cognitive decline. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University tracked the cognitive skills of over 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. Memory and cognitive problems are 24 percent more likely in people who have hearing loss extreme enough to disrupt conversation, according to this study.
Why is a hearing assessment important?
Hearing loss affects the overall health and that would most likely surprise many individuals. Most individuals don’t even realize they have hearing loss because it progresses so slowly. The human brain is good at adjusting as hearing declines, so it’s less noticeable.
Scheduling regular comprehensive exams gives you and your hearing specialist the ability to properly assess hearing health and monitor any decline as it happens.
Using hearing aids to decrease the risk
The present theory is that strain on the brain from hearing loss plays a big part in cognitive decline and different types of dementia. Based on that one fact, you could conclude that hearing aids reduce that risk. The stress on your brain will be reduced by using a hearing aid to filter out undesirable background noise while boosting sounds you want to hear. The sounds that you’re hearing will come through without as much effort.
There’s no rule that says people who have normal hearing won’t end up with dementia. What science thinks is that hearing loss speeds up the decline in the brain, raising the risk of cognitive problems. Having regular hearing tests to identify and manage hearing loss before it gets too extreme is key to decreasing that risk.
If you’re concerned that you may be dealing with hearing loss, give us a call today to schedule your hearing evaluation.