A Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia – How Treating Hearing Loss Could Help Prevent Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, which affects more than 5 million Americans. However, it is essential to note that dementia and Alzheimer’s are not natural parts of aging. Our commitment to hearing health means we want to bring awareness to the links between hearing loss and dementia.
Prevalence of Hearing Loss in the US
About 48 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. By the time Americans reach their 70s, about two-thirds of the population experience hearing loss. Unfortunately, only about 20% of people who need hearing aids get them, and many people suspect they may have hearing loss and wait three to five years before getting hearing devices.
There is a general perception that hearing loss is a normal part of aging and is, therefore, something that needs to be accommodated. However, studies have revealed that treating hearing loss with hearing aids is essential for brain health.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia and is a condition that affects the part of the brain which controls memory, speech, thought, and problem-solving. As the disease progresses, an individual loses touch with their environment and can’t react to events, places, or people. Early indicators of Alzheimer’s are often recognized by those close to an individual before the actual person realizes them.
They include memory issues, but not just simple forgetfulness. Large chunks of your memory seem to disappear. You need help figuring out why you have a remote control and what it does. You can’t use the microwave, and you may remember how to turn on the stove but not how to turn it off.
Individuals with dementia often find themselves at a location and have no awareness of how they got there, why they are there, and how to get home. They have trouble completing simple tasks in what would be considered a short time. They may ask for directions to a place they have been to hundreds of times before and ask the same question repeatedly in the same conversation. People with dementia have trouble handling money and paying bills. They misplace items or put them in odd places, which could lead to the suspicion that others are stealing from them. Personality changes are common for people with dementia, leading to feelings of anger, paranoia, and depression.
Hearing Loss and Cognition
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, untreated hearing loss reduces cognitive abilities, and the brain needs cognitive challenges to keep functioning. Other factors may also contribute to the onset of dementia, including obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, and social isolation.
To stay active, the brain requires stimuli. Processing sound in the form of conversation, music, the sounds of nature, and television and radio programs all help exercise the brain. Untreated hearing loss, which reduces the amount of auditory processing your brain may receive otherwise, puts a significant stress load on your brain to cope. This could lead your brain to work harder to hear, which takes away from other processes, such as encoding memories or performing simple tasks.
Hearing Aids Have a Positive Effect
Untreated hearing loss and social isolation are two major risk factors for dementia. A new study suggests that treating hearing loss could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery, found that among patients who had both hearing loss and dementia, hearing aids were associated with a lower risk of developing dementia.
The researchers analyzed data from more than 2,200 people over age 65 who had received Medicare coverage between 2007 and 2013. The patients either used a hearing aid or did not use one at all.
The researchers found that people who used a hearing aid were less likely to develop dementia than those who didn’t use a hearing aid — even after controlling for factors like age, sex and race. The finding was consistent across different age groups and races as well.
If you believe you have hearing loss, take the first step toward better hearing and brain health. Contact us for a consultation and hearing test today – and don’t miss a moment at your next holiday gathering.