Dr. Thomas Tedeschi
Chief Audiology Officer, Miracle-Ear
Miracle-Ear Chief Audiology Officer Dr. Thomas Tedeschi answers some of your hearing-related questions.
Q: "I’ve heard dementia is linked to hearing loss. What is the connection and what can be done about it?"
A: You’re right, there are many studies that show a connection between hearing loss and dementia, a condition marked by memory loss and trouble thinking or problem-solving. The good news is that treating hearing loss aggressively can actually help ward off cognitive decline and dementia.
Studies Show a Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
In one study, scientists found that the greater a person’s hearing loss is, the greater their chances for cognitive decline seemed to be. Mild, moderate and severe hearing loss meant the odds were two, three and five times greater, respectively, over the following ten-plus years.
A 2013 study found that participants with hearing loss severe enough to interfere with conversation had a decline in cognitive ability 30 to 40 percent faster than those with normal hearing, over a period of six years.
Finally, a 2018 study reported that individuals with hearing loss had a two-fold increase in the risk for dementia, cognitive decline, along with connections to several other adverse health outcomes.
Why is Dementia Linked to Hearing Loss?
There are several reasons for the connection of hearing loss and dementia. The first one is what researchers refer to as cognitive load. If you suffer from hearing loss, your brain must work much harder to process sound. This takes away resources that could be used for other cognitive activities.
The other connection is related to social isolation. There are numerous studies that show a direct link between feeling lonely or isolated and dementia. When you have hearing difficulties, it’s more difficult to join in conversations or interact socially with friends, family and colleagues.
A third connection is the fact that your hearing no longer is picking up as many sounds when you have hearing loss, which means your hearing is sending fewer signals to your brain. As a result, your brain function begins to decline.
Many researchers believe that all these connections are likely and it’s probably a combination of all three.
Hearing Aids Can Help Prevent Dementia
It’s important to note that just because someone is at an increased risk for dementia does not mean that person is certain to develop it. However, there are steps you can take to prevent the effects of this condition.
Some experts believe that the treatment of hearing loss in mid-to-late life could prevent 9% of dementia cases globally. Hearing aids are the most effective way to treat noise-induced or age-related hearing loss.
In addition to treating existing hearing loss, it’s never too late to protect your hearing. Some simple steps include:
- Avoid harmful noise and use hearing protection like earplugs when at concerts, firing guns or any other particularly loud commercial, industrial, or recreational environment.
- Practice healthy lifestyle choices like refraining from smoking, eating well, and exercising. This will help to ensure your body stays in the best shape possible.
- Get your hearing checked annually. Many hearing problems can be treated if caught early. If you already have hearing loss, it’s important to closely monitor how it changes over time.
If you think you’ve been experiencing hearing loss, reach out to a hearing care professional near you to schedule your free hearing evaluation and discuss hearing loss treatment options. Proper treatment of hearing loss has been proven to have a major effect on your overall health and well-being!