It’s easy to mistake hearing loss as just an ear issue when in actuality, it affects every aspect of your life. Starting as a communication issue it quickly affects how we communicate with loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers. If you are struggling with hearing loss it is important to understand that you are not alone, especially as you age. While hearing loss can happen to anyone at any age, around half of all people over 75 struggle with a hearing loss. This can lead to chronic depression, social issues, loneliness, and an increased risk of accidents leading to hospitalizations in seniors. One aspect that is even more alarming is hearing loss and its increased risk for dementia.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease in which two or more cognitive functions are affected such as memory, ability to complete daily activities, problem-solving, or reasoning. The most common type of dementia composing 60—70% of all cases Dementia occurs when damage to brain cells interferes with the ability for brain cells to communicate with one another. This is caused by the formation of amyloid plaque and
neurofibrillary tangles, constricting and damaging brain cells.
What Causes Dementia?
No one knows exactly why this plaque and tangles form, though there are several factors suspected. The more risk factors in your life that you can eliminate, the more of a chance you have of decreasing your risk. Some factors are modifiable such as advanced age and family history, however, other factors such as exercise, a healthy diet, and rich social life can lower your risk. One modifiable factor is the treatment of hearing loss.
The latest research not only shows the two factors are connected, but many experts believe that hearing loss may cause dementia.
Hearing Aids and Dementia
While hearing loss is most often irreversible it can be treated using hearing aids. Hearing aids are worn in or around the ear and amplify sounds converting them into electrical signals which are sent to the inner ear. Hearing aids can improve people’s ability to participate in conversation, increase mood and improve self-esteem. So, can hearing aids also reduce the risk of a person developing dementia? At the forefront of this topic is Dr. Frank Lin, MD, Ph.D. ’08, director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at the Bloomberg School to answer these questions and more. Lin explains the connection between the two conditions and where the science is headed.
Hearing loss and the brain
According to Dr. Lin, If you have hearing loss, you have a greater chance of developing dementia. The 2020 Lancet commission lists hearing loss as one of many risks contributing to Alzheimer’s according to a 2020 Lancet commission report lists hearing loss as one of the top risk factors for dementia. This may be due to hearing loss’s strain on the brain. When the brain must fill in the blanks in conversation constantly, it is forced to borrow reserve from other cognitive functions.
Social Isolation and Dementia
This overworking of the brain can cause listening fatigue and a likeliness of avoidance of social situations. The depletion of social interactions is another factor contributing to dementia, as socialization is essential to remain intellectually stimulated. As parts of the brain become less stimulated due to less socialization, the brain can atrophy or shrink.
Looking Ahead on Hearing Loss’s Impact
It’s estimated that hearing loss may cause up to 8% of cases of dementia. This number may not seem large at first but quantified, this can be attributed to 800,000 of the nearly 10 million new cases of dementia diagnosed annually. Dr. Lin and the team at Johns Hopkins University are leading a large National Institute on Aging study investigating hearing aids’ place in the contribution to safeguarding seniors’ mental processes. Based on multiple locations and sourcing data from approximately 1,000 people ages 70–84 with hearing loss. One test group is using hearing aids while the other group’s hearing loss is untreated. Results are expected as soon as early 2023 and should give us a better idea of hearing loss’s role in preventing cognitive health.
Treating Hearing Loss
Regardless of the results of this study we already know that hearing loss can contribute to cognitive decline, stimulation, and reduced social interaction. If you are experiencing hearing loss don’t delay in addressing it as soon as possible. Your quality of life may depend on it. Schedule a hearing test today.