Hearing Loss and Dementia

Hearing loss and dementia become more common as you get older, and this is no coincidence – studies have found a link between the two. While your risk increases as your hearing loss worsens, it doesn’t mean that you will definitely develop dementia if you have hearing loss. But any hearing loss certainly does increase your chance of developing dementia.

For many people with mild hearing loss, they don’t even realize that their hearing has deteriorated at all. But mild hearing loss can have serious consequences if left untreated, including reduced cognitive function, a decline in mental health, social isolation and dementia.

Link between hearing loss and dementia

These studies aren’t suggesting that hearing loss alone causes dementia. However, they do highlight the link between them caused by:

  • Cognitive load
  • Changes in brain structure
  • Brain overload
  • Social isolation

Cognitive load

When you can’t hear properly, your brain has to work much harder to understand what people are saying. Each conversation requires more of your effort and mental energy. If your daily conversations take up the majority of your mental energy, that leaves you less to put towards memory and other important cognitive functions – imagine the effect this has on your brain’s resilience over a prolonged period of time.

Brain structure

While you may just dismiss your hearing loss as an inevitable part of growing older, it can actually cause brain changes that raise the risk of dementia. The part of your brain in charge of hearing and processing auditory information could start working differently when your hearing is reduced. Untreated hearing loss is a modifiable risk factor for dementia.

Brain overload

When you are struggling to hear, your brain has to work overtime to understand what people are saying. This daily strain to make sense of conversations and people speaking can deplete your mental energy and steal crucial brain power needed for thinking and remembering.

Social isolation

Have you stopped socializing with friends because you can’t get involved in conversations? If your untreated hearing loss is stopping you from doing things, it’s worth noting that social isolation can have a serious impact on your physical and mental health. When it’s hard to hear, it can become much harder to maintain your social connections. This can leave you feeling lonely and alienated, both risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia.

Treating hearing loss

If you are concerned about the link between your hearing loss and dementia, then there is some good news. The potential link between the two raises the possibility that more focused attempts to treat hearing loss earlier could help to slow down the onset of cognitive decline and dementia. Numerous studies show the difference that hearing aids can make to a person’s quality of life. Not only do they improve hearing but can also help to preserve your independence, emotional and physical health, mental abilities and your work, home and social life.

In a 2015 study, 94 people with profound deafness in at least one ear were each given a cochlear implant and twice-weekly auditory rehabilitation sessions. More than 80% of people who had initially had the lowest cognitive scores showed considerable improvement in just one year.

Minimize your risk of dementia

It is believed that early detection and treatment of hearing loss can help to reduce the risk of developing dementia later on. There are different types of hearing loss and each vary in cause, severity and affected part of the ear. You may experience hearing loss in just one ear or both and the severity of the hearing loss can vary between the ears. Understanding your type of hearing loss can help you to better communicate about your hearing loss to your doctor or hearing care professional who will support your treatment.

There are three main types of hearing loss:

If you are concerned that you may be showing signs of dementia, it’s crucial that you see a health care provider as soon as possible, and get your hearing tested as part of this assessment. Undiagnosed hearing loss symptoms can sometimes be confused with dementia symptoms when they are really not.

If you don’t stimulate your brain enough by interacting with people and places and don’t use your brain to hear and listen, the more risk there is of your brain declining and your risk of dementia rising. Treating your hearing loss won't cure dementia, but it will improve your quality of life in the short term, and it can also help your brain to stay healthy for longer.

With you on your journey to better hearing.

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