What’s the connection between hearing loss and dementia? Medical science has found a connection between brain health and hearing loss. It was discovered that even minor untreated hearing impairment raises your risk of developing dementia.
These two seemingly unconnected health disorders may have a pathological connection. So, how does loss of hearing put you at risk for dementia and how can a hearing test help combat it?
What is dementia?
Dementia is a condition that reduces memory ability, thinking, and socialization skills, as reported by the Mayo Clinic. Individuals tend to think of Alzheimer’s disease when they hear dementia probably because it is a common form. Alzheimer’s means progressive dementia that impacts around five million people in the U.S. Today, medical science has a comprehensive understanding of how hearing health alters the risk of dementias like Alzheimer’s disease.
How hearing works
The ear mechanisms are very intricate and each one matters when it comes to good hearing. Waves of sound go inside the ear canal and are boosted as they move toward the inner ear. Electrical impulses are transmitted to the brain for decoding by tiny little hairs in the inner ear that vibrate in response to waves of sound.
As time passes, many individuals develop a progressive decline in their ability to hear because of years of damage to these delicate hair cells. The outcome is a decrease in the electrical impulses to the brain that makes it harder to comprehend sound.
This progressive hearing loss is sometimes considered a normal and inconsequential part of the aging process, but research indicates that’s not accurate. Whether the signals are unclear and garbled, the brain will attempt to decipher them anyway. The ears can become strained and the brain exhausted from the additional effort to hear and this can eventually result in a higher risk of developing cognitive decline.
Here are several disease risk factors that have hearing loss in common:
- Weak overall health
- Inability to master new tasks
- Reduction in alertness
- Memory impairment
And the more significant your hearing loss the higher your risk of dementia. Even minor hearing loss can double the odds of dementia. More significant hearing loss means three times the danger and someone with severe, untreated loss of hearing has up to five times the odds of developing dementia. Research by Johns Hopkins University watched the cognitive skills of over 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. Cognitive and memory problems are 24 percent more likely in people who have hearing loss significant enough to disrupt conversation, according to this research.
Why is a hearing assessment important?
Hearing loss impacts the general health and that would probably surprise many individuals. Most people don’t even recognize they have hearing loss because it progresses so gradually. The human brain is good at adjusting as hearing declines, so it is not so obvious.
Scheduling regular comprehensive exams gives you and your hearing specialist the ability to correctly assess hearing health and observe any decline as it occurs.
Decreasing the risk with hearing aids
The present hypothesis is that stress on the brain from hearing loss plays a big part in cognitive decline and different types of dementia. So hearing aids should be able to reduce the risk, based on that fact. A hearing assistance device boosts sound while filtering out background noise that impedes your hearing and alleviates the strain on your brain. The sounds that you’re hearing will come through without as much effort.
There is no rule that says people with normal hearing won’t end up with dementia. What science thinks is that hearing loss speeds up the decline in the brain, increasing the risk of cognitive problems. The key to reducing that risk is regular hearing tests to diagnose and manage gradual hearing loss before it can have an impact on brain health.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing exam if you’re concerned that you may be coping with hearing loss.