Hearing Loss and Dementia: How Are They Linked?

Hearing loss and dementia are two prevalent health issues that can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. In this blog post, we will explore the connection between hearing loss and dementia and how untreated hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline.

The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia

Is there a connection between hearing loss and dementia? According to a 2020 Lancet Commission report, hearing loss is listed as one of the top risk factors for dementia. When compared to people with normal hearing, dementia was shown to be 61% more likely among people with moderate to severe hearing loss. However, individuals who used hearing aids had a 32% lower likelihood of having dementia, based on a study of 853 participants with moderate/severe hearing loss.

So how are hearing loss and dementia connected?

1. Social Isolation

When individuals experience hearing loss, they may find it difficult to communicate effectively with others. This can lead to frustration and anxiety, causing them to avoid social situations altogether. As a result, they may become more socially isolated and experience feelings of loneliness, which can be detrimental to their mental health.

When people can’t hear well they can have feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can increase the risk of cognitive decline. Research has shown that social isolation and loneliness are linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

2. Changes in the Brain

Another theory is that hearing loss causes changes in the brain that contribute to cognitive decline. When people can’t hear well, their brains have to work harder to process sounds. Over time, this extra effort can lead to changes in the brain that make it more vulnerable to dementia.

Furthermore, hearing loss may also cause physical changes in the brain. The auditory system is a complex network of neurons that transmit sound signals from the ear to the brain. If these signals are disrupted due to hearing loss, it can cause a reduction in the stimulation of these neurons. This can lead to changes in the structure and function of the auditory system, which can affect other cognitive functions.  More often than not, the brain relies significantly more on the eyes for visual cues, making the cognitive load significantly more.

Hearing has a crucial impact on the brain. If someone has mild hearing loss, their potential risk of the onset of dementia doubles. If they have moderate hearing loss, their risk triples. And if they have severe hearing loss, their risk goes up by five times.

Connection Between Dementia and Hearing Loss: What Can You Do?

The connection between hearing loss and dementia is a concerning issue, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. If you are experiencing hearing loss, seek treatment as soon as possible. Waiting until your hearing loss becomes significantly worse is not advisable due to the effects a hearing loss has on the brain.

In addition to seeking treatment for hearing loss, you can take steps to maintain good brain health. Maintaining social activities and regularly ‘exercising’ the brain with puzzles, learning new tasks like language studies and playing an instrument are wonderful ways to keep your brain well nourished.

1. Get Your Hearing Checked Regularly

Getting your hearing checked regularly is a crucial step in reducing your risk of dementia. By doing so, you can identify any hearing problems early and take action to address them. Hearing loss is often gradual, and people may not realize they have a problem until it’s too late.

Regular hearing check-ups can detect any hearing loss early on and allow you to take steps to manage it. This might involve wearing hearing aids or other assistive devices, taking medications or undergoing surgery, or making lifestyle changes that can help protect your hearing.

2. Wear Your Hearing Aids Regularly

Wearing hearing aids is very beneficial for those with hearing loss. Hearing aids can help you hear better, which can reduce social isolation. They also reduce the extra effort the brain has to exert to process all sounds but most specifically speech, which can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

With hearing aids, people can stay socially connected by enabling them to participate in conversations and activities more easily.

If you suspect you have hearing loss, it is important to get your hearing checked by a hearing care professional to determine if hearing aids may be helpful. If so, it is important to wear them consistently and properly to get the most benefit.

We understand that there are circumstances where people have difficulty adjusting to their hearing aids, we would encourage regular visits to the hearing clinic for optimization of the sound and the fit to make sure you are comfortable and are hearing your best. However, if your situation has become such that your relationship with your hearing care professional has become unhelpful, we would recommend getting a second opinion. Sometimes a different set of experiences and skills allow for more success.

3. Engage in Social Activities

Engaging in social activities can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline associated with hearing loss. Social isolation has been linked to an increased risk of dementia, so staying socially active can help keep the brain active and healthy. Some ways to stay socially engaged include:

  • Volunteering in your community
  • Participating in group activities, such as exercise classes or hobby groups
  • Attending social events with friends and family
  • Using technology to stay connected with loved ones, such as video calls or social media.
  • Learn a new language
  • Learn to play music

4. Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise is not only important for physical health, but it also has cognitive benefits that can help reduce the risk of dementia. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which can help improve cognitive function. It also reduces the risk of other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, which are also risk factors for dementia.

It’s important to find an activity that you enjoy and can maintain over time.

Untreated Hearing Loss and Dementia

Untreated hearing loss is a prevalent problem, especially in older adults. About half of the people over the age of 75 suffer hearing loss, and around one in three people (between 65 and 74 years old) have hearing loss as well. Unfortunately, only 20% of people with hearing loss seek treatment.

When hearing loss is left untreated, it can lead to a variety of health problems, including cognitive decline and dementia. Research has shown that hearing aids can help prevent cognitive decline in people with hearing loss.

Now you know all about the connection between hearing loss and dementia.  By taking these steps, you can reduce your risk of cognitive decline and improve your overall quality of life. Stay healthy!