Hearing Loss & Dementia

Hearing Loss & Dementia

Hearing loss patients in Katy and throughout Texas confront many challenges in their daily lives. Some, such as difficulty communicating, are obvious; others, however, are easily overlooked. October is National Audiology Awareness Month, an opportunity for your hearing aid doctor to spread awareness about the many complications associated with hearing loss – including its association with dementia.

The Effects of Hearing Loss on the Brain

The brain being affected by hearing loss

If you’re experiencing hearing loss in Katy, you have an increased risk of developing dementia, according to a recently published study that tracked a large group of people in France over an extended time period. Let’s talk numbers: patients over the age of 60 have a 35 percent higher risk of cognitive impairment. Each additional 10-decibel loss in hearing capacity increases their risk by 20 percent.

The exact reason for this correlation is unclear, but researchers believe common pathology may have something to do with this: when damage to the nerve cells in the inner ear responsible for hearing occurs, similar damage may also happen to the nerve cells involved in memory and cognition. It is also understood that the very act of trying to process sounds can overwhelm the brains of individuals with hearing loss, leading to what is essentially cognitive overload. Finally, the self-imposed isolation and withdrawal from social activities many patients with hearing loss experience means less cognitive engagement and a corresponding increase in dementia.

The more severe the hearing loss, the higher the risk of developing cognitive impairment. Those with mild hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia; patients with moderate hearing loss tripled their risk, and those with severe hearing loss had 5x higher risk. Sobering statistics indeed.

Hearing Aids Can Help

Fortunately, that French study we mentioned earlier offers evidence that wearing hearing aids can help prevent mental health issues such as dementia. It found that seniors with hearing loss who wore hearing aids experienced significantly lower rates of cognitive decline.

The study, conducted by French researchers over a 25-year period, tracked, 3,700 participants. They were given questionnaires and psychological examinations to assess their cognitive skills and mood multiple times during the course of the study. Even accounting for factors such as age, gender, and education, researchers found a significant correlation between hearing loss and lower mental health screening scores. These corresponded with higher rates of cognitive decline. But those patients who treated their condition with hearing aids were the exception; their rates of decline were similar to those of people with normal hearing. Individuals who did not use hearing aids, by contrast, averaged an extra 1.5 points of decline on a 30-point scale over 25 years. Hearing aids reduce the brain’s cognitive demands and help those with hearing loss enjoy a variety of social activities – a proven factor in reducing the likelihood of dementia.

The takeaway from this study is pretty straightforward: wearing hearing aids is the best way to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia. For more information on the link between hearing loss and dementia, or to find out more information about National Audiology Awareness Month, contact your local Katy audiologist today!

Hearing Loss & Dementia

Research by Johns Hopkins University and others has confirmed what many audiologists and physicians have long feared: there is an irrefutable link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Initial problems such as memory loss and an inability to concentrate can worsen over time. Left untreated, this may eventually lead to dementia and other forms of severe cognitive impairment.

In the most recent study, published in 2013, 2,000 older adults (average age: 77) were tracked for a period of six years. Those who began the study with the worst hearing loss – impairment bad enough to interfere with daily conversational ability – were 24 percent more likely to see a decline in cognitive ability compared to individuals with normal hearing. A similar study published in 2011 concluded that persons with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely to develop dementia. These figures are striking and hard to refute.

Though the reason for the correlation isn’t completely understood, several theories exist. It may be that the increased cognitive load the brain experiences when trying to hear properly taxes the resources that would otherwise be available for memory and concentration. Alternatively, a decrease in the brain’s “gray matter” may lead to a shrinkage in brain cells and a resulting inability to process sound. Another factor may be the social isolation many individuals with hearing loss experience; this lack of socialization has been shown to accelerate cognitive decline and dementia.

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: hearing aids can help. Studies show that patients who treat their hearing loss with hearing devices reduce their odds of cognitive decline and, at the very least, delay the onset of dementia. Early detection is key! If you are experiencing hearing loss, it’s best to seek treatment as soon as possible in order to avoid mental deterioration. Even if you are unaware of a problem, schedule a hearing evaluation in order to make sure. Because symptoms develop slowly, many patients adjust to gradual changes in hearing without realizing there is anything wrong.

Call Today's Hearing at (281) 578-7500 for more information or to schedule an appointment.