The Unsettling Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia

Over recent years, there has been an increased focus on the impact of hearing loss beyond communication. Yes, it can prove bothersome when having a conversation in noisy places such as a restaurant, but it’s the less obvious impact to our health and our mind that is causing experts to sound the alarm about the importance of treating hearing loss early.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing, and this is conservative considering some sources report up to 48 million people in the United States suffer from hearing loss.  It’s no surprise then that research around hearing impairment is growing, along with the sophistication of treatment options such as hearing aids. In recent years, this research has uncovered a startling link between hearing loss, dementia and cognitive decline that may make you reconsider those treatment options if you’ve been putting off going for a hearing evaluation and hearing aid fitting.

What is Dementia?

Dementia covers a broad category of symptoms around a decline in memory and thinking skills.  Two of the most common forms of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and Vascular dementia. Preventing dementia has become a top priority for many as our population ages and we see the effects of these diseases in our loved ones. It is estimated that 1 in 7 Americans age 71 and older are living with some form of dementia. According to the latest findings, untreated hearing loss could play a role.

Hearing Loss and Dementia

As experts search for answers and the number of dementia cases in the United States grows, researchers have begun exploring how hearing loss may be linked to dementia. Theories explaining the link include reduced social interaction, increased load on the brain and even changes in the makeup of the brain itself, but the link is there and getting stronger with every study. In the article “Hearing Loss and Dementia – Who’s Listening?” authors Frank R. Lin, MD Ph.D. and Marilyn Albert, Ph.D. summed up the findings of previous studies with startling statistics:
Longitudinal studies of community-dwelling older adults have demonstrated that hearing impairment is independently associated with a 30-40% rate of accelerated cognitive decline (Lin et al., 2013) (on both auditory and non-auditory cognitive tests) and with a substantially increased risk of incident all-cause dementia (Gallacher et al., 2012; Lin, Metter, et al., 2011). Compared to individuals with normal hearing, those individuals with a mild, moderate, and severe hearing impairment, respectively, had a 2-, 3-, and 5-fold increased risk of incident all-cause dementia over >10 years of follow-up (Lin, Metter, et al., 2011).
When faced with facts like these, the link between dementia and hearing loss, especially untreated hearing loss, is hard to deny!
It is clear now that untreated hearing loss and its effects on our health are more complicated than we knew.  It’s not just communication that can be impaired, but also our cognitive abilities. Reduce your risk of developing dementia with regular hearing evaluations and treatment options such as hearing aids. Your hearing healthcare provider can offer guidance to help get you started on the road to better hearing health.


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