One in three Americans older than 65 will develop some type of hearing loss during their life. A decrease in auditory function is one of the most common health conditions affecting older adults, but it’s also highly treatable.
Dementia, on the other hand, affects one in 10 Americans and few treatments exist to curb the symptoms of dementia. Fortunately, dementia is not nearly as common as hearing loss, but there is a little-known connection between these two afflictions of the aged.
So, is hearing loss a symptom of dementia? Or is dementia a result of hearing loss? Here’s what you need to know about the connection between hearing loss and dementia.
Hearing Loss and Dementia Go Hand in Hand
In early 2011, researchers from Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging released a study suggesting a connection between hearing loss and dementia. They analyzed the hearing and brain function of nearly 650 patients over 12 years. None of the participants had dementia at the beginning of the survey.
After routine check-ins for several years, researchers identified 58 original participants who developed some type of dementia. They quickly realized that not only was hearing loss and dementia connected, but the severity of the hearing loss had a direct impact on the likelihood of developing dementia later in life.
Patients with mild hearing loss were twice as likely to develop some type of dementia. Those with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely and those with severe hearing loss were as much as five times as likely to develop dementia.
Despite factoring in other risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, age and gender, researchers still concluded hearing loss and dementia are closely correlated, but stopped short of learning why.
The Cause of the Connection is Unknown
Although plenty of research has been done to verify the correlation between hearing loss and dementia, little has been uncovered to determine what, exactly, is causing this connection. Doctors are getting close, but all they really have are highly educated guesses.
One theory is when people struggle with hearing loss, the process of deciphering sounds is far more difficult than it is for those with normal hearing. Over time, the brains of people with hearing loss become strained by this complex deciphering process and ultimately more vulnerable to dementia.
Other studies have pointed to the lack of auditory input in the brains of those with hearing loss. When the auditory centers aren’t stimulated by sound, they begin to shrink, leaving their brains scrambling to compensate and more susceptible to dementia. In fact, patients with hearing loss lose an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue every year compared to those without hearing loss.
Another possibility is hearing loss leaves many people socially isolated. Lack of interaction with other people is a known risk factor for many types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
Although the connection is still unclear, recognizing the correlation between these two health issues is an important step in preventing and treating many types of dementia. With more information available about risk factors, patients and physicians can more actively pursue preventative treatments, like hearing aids, to curb the effects of hearing loss and dementia.
There is Something You Can Do
Treating your hearing loss is a great way to prevent all types of dementia. Doing so is recognized as one of the top modifiable risk factors to keep you and your loved ones from getting dementia. Identifying your hearing loss early and seeking treatment could mean the difference between independence and dementia.
Many studies have shown correcting auditory abilities can protect cognitive function for years to come. For most with hearing loss, this means getting a hearing aid.
If you suspect you have hearing loss and need a hearing aid, there’s a hearing aid specialist who can help. The experts at Jul Hearing Aid Solutions can help you discover if your hearing is impaired and how you can correct it.
Don’t wait! Repairing your hearing could be a crucial step to prevent memory loss. Contact Jul Hearing Aid Solutions today to restore your hearing and protect your future.