Can hearing loss be a contributing cause of dementia? A body of research has found that older people with moderate to severe hearing loss had a risk of almost 60 percent of developing cognitive impairment.(Lin and Albert, 2014; Yuan et al, 2018) Later studies have been looking into whether the use of hearing aids can delay or prevent these problems. As is the case with many studies linked to dementia, it’s difficult to pin down exact causes of dementia because the human brain has already been damaged by the time the symptoms begin to arise.
What’s the Connection?
Scientists are trying to figure out the connection between hearing loss and dementia, and so far they have a few theories. One idea is that a basic problem, such as vascular disease, causes both hearing loss and dementia. In this case, the link between hearing loss and dementia is likely coincidental.
Others think that straining to hear sounds without the assistance of the correct hearing aids can have an impact on memory. Listening with such an effort can cause a decrease in understanding because it can take away the cognitive reserve needed to allow our brains to decode a spoken message.
Studies that include an MRI show that people with hearing loss use many parts of the brain to decode sounds, so the loss of hearing would affect multiple parts of the brain. People with hearing loss typically have a faster decline in brain volume than those with normal hearing do.
Another factor that may contribute to dementia is social isolation, a big problem among those with hearing problems. Noisy environments can cause people to avoid going out to dinner, going to church functions, and even enjoying family gatherings. This increased isolation can contribute to an increase in dementia.
Get Help Early
Studies show that the quality of hearing is one of the few risk factors you can affect to cause a delay in cognitive decline. Having your hearing tested and being fitted with the correct hearing aids can greatly increase your chance at avoiding dementia. The key is getting help early because once symptoms begin to appear, the brain damage has already begun.
Being proactive with your health is more than just getting a regular physical checkup. Contact our team to schedule a hearing test today to help your mental health too.
Lin FR, Albert M. Hearing loss and dementia – who is listening?. Aging Ment Health. 2014;18(6):671-673. doi:10.1080/13607863.2014.915924
Yuan, J., Sun, Y., Sang, S. et al. The risk of cognitive impairment associated with hearing function in older adults: a pooled analysis of data from eleven studies. Sci Rep 8, 2137 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-20496-w