The Relationship Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
Both dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease, and hearing impairment are most prevalent among seniors. In the United States, one in three people ages 65 to 74 is affected by hearing loss, while 3% of that demographic has Alzheimer’s.
Hearing loss has also been associated with cognitive impairment and an increased risk of dementia. An article published in the journal Aging and Mental Health noted that, “… hearing impairment is independently associated with a 30-40% rate of accelerated cognitive decline.” Study author Frank Lin, MD, PhD, told Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Brain scans show us that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain.”
The researchers also found that compared to those with normal hearing, people with severe hearing loss are five times more likely to have dementia, while those with moderate hearing loss are three times more likely, and those with mild hearing loss are twice as likely.
Interestingly, the conditions share several commonalities, as described below.
People with dementia symptoms often refuse to seek a diagnosis, and statistics indicate it takes an average of seven years for someone with hearing loss to seek help. Of those who do, only one in five choose to wear hearing aids — an action that could potentially reduce the risk of dementia.
Some of the same misconceptions and hindrances to seeking an Alzheimer’s diagnosis may keep people from wearing hearing aids.
- “This is simply a normal part of aging.”
- “People will look at me differently or not take me seriously.”
- “I’m too young for that.”
- “There’s nothing wrong with me.”
- “It’s not me, it’s you.”
Isolation is another common denominator of dementia and hearing loss. A person who can’t hear well is often isolated from conversations, and may lose contact with loved ones and friends. If someone can’t keep up with a dialogue or movie plot, the lack of engagement and interaction may contribute to dementia over time. Living with dementia and cognitive impairment can also result in diminished contact with the outside world, leading to isolation.
Hearing loss and dementia even share some common contributors.
- Veterans with brain injuries are at an increased risk of dementia, and exposure to loud noises like explosions can make them more susceptible to hearing loss
- A history of concussions
- Other illnesses
- Frequent exposure to loud noise, such as in the workplace
While there are certainly commonalities between hearing loss and cognitive impairment, more studies are needed to determine the extent of the relationship between the conditions. However, current research suggests that treatment for hearing loss can positively affect cognitive performance.
Steps to take if you’re struggling with hearing loss
If you often ask, “What?” or struggle to keep up with dialogue, consider it a problem and seek help.
Make an appointment with an audiologist who will help to determine why you’re not hearing well. It may be related to an illness or even a prescribed medication.
Complete all necessary tests and follow the doctor’s orders.
If a doctor diagnoses hearing loss, or expects it to worsen, don’t get stuck in the mire of denial.
An act as simple as wearing a tiny hearing aid can not only help with your hearing loss, but potentially combat dementia symptoms and thwart brain atrophy. Consistently wear your hearing aids as prescribed.
Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.