Jul 19, 2017

Is There a Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia?

In the last few years, there have been a number of researches that suggest that hearing loss may be linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

So when managing your own health, or the health of a loved one, it’s important to take note of any hearing loss that may be developing.

Approximately 3.5 million people in Australia have significant hearing loss, so it is vital to manage this condition to prevent the onset of other health issues, as well as improve the person’s quality of life.

How are the conditions connected?

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Ageing found that while brain “shrinkage” occurs as a natural part of aging, older adults with hearing loss appear to lose brain mass at a faster rate than individuals with normal hearing.

The studies show that older adults with hearing loss are likely to experience:

  • Faster changes in the brain
  • Faster onset of dementia
  • Increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease

MRI scans from the research showed that specific areas of the brain may reduce in volume because of a lack of proper stimulus. And that for every 10 dB of hearing loss, there is a 20% extra risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

It was also found that older adults with hearing loss were far more likely to experience problems with thinking and memory than individuals with normal hearing.

“Our results show that hearing loss should not be considered an inconsequential part of aging, because it may come with some serious long-term consequences to healthy brain functioning,” says lead researcher Dr Frank Lin.

Whilst there is a link, there is no conclusive reason for the connection between hearing loss and dementia. However, there are a number of different theories.  

One theory suggest that a common pathology may present in both conditions; that the strain of decoding sounds over time may overwhelm people’s brains with hearing loss, leaving them more vulnerable to dementia.

Another possible theory is that lifestyle factors maybe the connecting link; hearing loss can make people more socially isolated, which is a risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Dr Lin estimates that as much as 36 per cent of people diagnosed with dementia can be attributed to hearing loss. This study also proposes that people with hearing loss increase their chances by 30-40 per cent of also developing some form of cognitive decline versus those without (hearing loss).

It is suggested that if hearing loss is contributing to the brain changes found a MRI, then it is key to take action early.

What can you do?

In order to address hearing loss well, it is essential that action is taken sooner rather than later.

The most common treatment for hearing loss is the use of properly fitted hearing aids. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, patients are reluctant to follow treatment advice and often delay treatment for several years after first noticing difficulties with hearing.

Uncorrected hearing loss gives rise to a poorer quality of life, related to isolation, reduced social activity, a feeling of being excluded and increased symptoms of depression.

Another study by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) found a direct correlation between improved cognitive function and hearing aid use in older adults with hearing loss.

The study suggests that using a hearing aid may offer a simple, yet important, way to prevent or slow the development of dementia by keeping adults with hearing loss engaged in conversation and communication.

Getting your hearing checked and treated early could mean better long-term brain performance, a lesser chance of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and overall, better long-term health and wellness.

Do any of these difficulties seem familiar? If you think someone you love might have hearing loss, or you just want to check your own hearing, take an online hearing test today.

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