Hearing loss can be disruptive to your life, affecting how you converse and how you interact with your surroundings. It can impact your relationships, your work, and your sense of independence. But did you know that hearing loss also puts you at a higher risk for cognitive decline and dementia?!
Dementia is a grouping of neurodegenerative diseases that affect two or more cognitive functions such as memory, reasoning, problem-solving, or language comprehension and perception. Some degree of cognitive decline is normal as we age and the brain slowly declines, however, risk factors include, education level, family history, impact on the head, exposure to harmful toxins, sedentary lifestyle, and chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and hearing loss can all contribute to a higher risk of dementia.
Connecting Dementia and Hearing Loss
Hearing loss in the past was dangerously underestimated in its overall effect on your health. Today we understand that not only does hearing loss affect how we perceive sound but it keeps us from connecting with loved ones, staying active, and staying alert. Study after study now shows that those with hearing loss are far more likely to develop cognitive decline which can lead to dementia. For instance, many studies find that men are at a higher risk, with those with hearing loss, at a 69 percent higher risk of developing dementia than those with no hearing impairment. The risk increases with the severity of the loss. While those with mild hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia than those with normal hearing, those with moderate hearing are three times as likely and those with a severe loss increase the risk five times over.
While no one completely understands what causes dementia, it’s believed that changes in the brain due to hearing loss are the most common theory. For instance, many believe that hearing loss causes brain atrophy. We collect sound with our ears but we listen and comprehend with our ears. Hearing loss caused by noise, old age, impact on the head and more can impede the delivery of certain tones and sounds from reaching the brain. As years go by, and the “hearing” section of the brain becomes less active due to years of being deprived of sound it can cause parts of the brain devoted to this function to wither and for cells to die. Atrophy, also known as brain shrinkage, occurs more quickly in people with hearing loss and is commonly thought of as one of the biggest contributors to cognitive decline caused by hearing loss.
Another common theory of why hearing loss contributes to dementia is its overwhelming effect on the brain. The hearing loss leaves gaps in the sounds we hear through everyday communication. When we struggle to fill in the gaps, it leaves us feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and frustrated by even a minor conversation. Straining to hear all day, every day depletes a person’s mental energy and steals the brain power needed for other crucial functions like memory and reasoning.
Hearing Loss and Social Isolation
When we strain to hear it puts a strain on our relationships across every aspect of our life. A study by The National Council on the Aging (NCOA) of 2,300 people with hearing loss discovered that those with untreated hearing loss are more likely to experience loneliness, worry, depression, anxiety, and paranoia making them less likely to join organized and casual social activities. An active social life is one of the most important factors in preventing dementia as social interaction challenges and engages our brain, helping us to feel a part of the community and adding responsibility beyond ourselves.
Preventing Dementia with Hearing aids
The good news is that while hearing loss is most often permanent, it can be treated effectively using hearing aids. Numerous studies show that hearing aids not only improve a person’s hearing, but they help to encourage an individual’s independence, mental abilities, emotional and physical health, and work, home, and social lives. With hearing aids, you will be able to hear sounds your brain would otherwise struggle to hear, allowing for improved cognitive health for years to come. The key is acting now before the hearing loss has a chance to take a toll on your cognitive health. Contact us today to set up a hearing exam!