Hearing Loss and Dementia
On the surface, hearing loss and dementia seem to have very little in common. It’s well known that both are more likely to affect older people but, aside from that, they are seemingly unrelated: one is the loss of a sense, the other is a neurological condition.
However, research has suggested that these two, seemingly very individual, conditions may be more linked than anyone has previously imagined.
What the research shows
There are two particular studies that have suggested links between hearing loss and dementia.
The first study, which was published in 2011, was comprehensive: over 600 people took part and results were tracked between 12-18 years. The investigation came to a surprising conclusion: when compared to standard hearing capabilities, those with moderate hearing loss were three times more likely to develop dementia.
A second study, published in 2013, saw similar results. Nearly 2,000 people with an average age of 77 took part and those with hearing loss deemed severe enough to impact their ability to sustain conversations were 24 percent more likely to experience cognitive problems.
The two studies as described above are very much the tip of the iceberg; there have been many more, all of which have reached a similar conclusion: there is a definite link between hearing loss and loss of cognitive abilities, in older people.
Does this mean everyone with hearing loss will get dementia?
Not at all, so don’t worry.
A lot has been theorized as to why these studies have shown these results and the generally accepted theory is that hearing loss impairs a person’s ability to keep their cognitive skills sharp. This makes complete sense; for example, if a person is struggling to hear conversations, they will usually tend to have fewer conversations, as they find conversing stressful due to the hearing loss. This can lead to social isolation, which is a known risk factor for dementia.
Also, it has also been suggested that the brain has to work harder to focus on and identify sounds when you have lost hearing. It is believed this effectively takes away mental resources from other areas.
However, the theories above are not to suggest that hearing loss will result in dementia - just that the risk is somewhat higher.
What does this mean for you?
The most important thing you can do to help mitigate the above risks is to obtain the right treatment for your hearing loss. Hearing aids can help to prevent issues such as social isolation, as conversation returns to being enjoyable rather than taxing. In addition, hearing aids can also ensure that your brain isn’t having to work overly hard to hear, so you’ll enjoy a more even spread of mental resources.
If you suspect you have hearing loss, or that your hearing loss may have become more pronounced since your last visit with an audiologist, then it is highly advisable to book a test as soon as possible. With the right hearing aid, your hearing can be preserved as well as possible and the risk of developing dementia reduced as a result.