Is There a Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia?
Hearing loss is a natural part of aging. In fact, an estimated 25 percent of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss that is so prevalent it can become disabling, according to the Hearing Language Association of America.
Of course, there are aspects of hearing loss that the statistics never show, such as the frustration of not being able to hear conversations in a restaurant or always asking others to constantly repeat themselves. It’s also exasperating to be unable to hear someone if they are behind you. Hearing loss transforms your entire life.
But there’s another aspect of hearing loss you may not have considered: There is a connection between hearing loss and dementia. This is why it’s vital to speak with an ear doctor or audiologist at Raleigh Capitol ENT if you’re having hearing problems, especially if they are slowly getting worse.
Hearing Loss and Dementia: The Important Connection
Chances are you’ve heard a lot about dementia, but are you aware that this is not the name of one condition? Rather, this is a medical term that encompasses several symptoms. To understand how hearing loss can contribute to it, let’s first take a more complete look at the causes and symptoms of dementia.
What is Dementia?
As we age, many brain cells don’t function as well as they did when we were younger. While hearing loss seems to be a natural part of aging, dementia is not. It’s a progressive syndrome. According to the Hearing Loss Foundation, dementia occurs when at least two of the following are affected:
- Performing everyday tasks
Worldwide, 47 million people are living with dementia, and the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that the number will increase to 75 million in 2030. The WHO also provides these interesting statistics:
- One new case of dementia is diagnosed every three seconds.
- Worldwide costs are estimated at $818 billion a year.
- Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia, contributing to as many as 60 to 70 percent of all cases of dementia.
- Dementia does not only affect older people. Young onset dementia represents almost 10 percent of all cases.
Important Information on Hearing Loss
Hearing loss doesn’t happen suddenly—your hearing will gradually get worse over time. If you’re not sure if you need a hearing test, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you always turn up the volume on the TV or on your music player?
- Do you have difficulty understanding others because they mumble?
- Can you hear someone clearly if they’re standing behind you?
- Do you have to ask others to repeat what they say?
- Do you avoid restaurants because you find it more difficult to hear in them?
There are also several risk factors for developing a hearing loss. These include:
- Being exposed to loud noise for extended periods of time
- Chronic ear infections
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Meniere’s Disease (an inner ear disorder that causes balance problems)
Studies Reveal the Link Between Dementia and Hearing Loss
A Johns Hopkins University study demonstrated that those with normal hearing are less likely to have dementia than those with hearing loss. In fact, those with mild and moderate hearing loss were two and three times more likely to develop dementia. Those with severe hearing loss were five times more likely to develop the disorder.
An additional 2013 study showed those with a hearing problem have a 30 to 40 percent rate of mental decline that is higher than what is seen in those without hearing issues, according to the medical journal, Aging and Mental Health.
But why are these connected?
One theory suggests that when you have hearing loss, the brain spends a lot more of its “energy” (referred to as its “cognitive load”) to try to understand sounds. As a result, more of the brain’s resources are allocated to trying to figure out what is being said. This leaves little mental “energy” for the brain to complete other tasks.
We also know that hearing loss can accelerate atrophy in the cerebrum. This means that the part of your brain that is used for important functions like touch, vision, speech, reason and emotions, loses its effectiveness. This can not only cause deterioration of thought patterns, but it can also lead to depression.
How is this treated?
Ear doctors are continuing research into the connection between hearing loss and dementia in order to create an effective treatment.
Obviously, getting a hearing aid will not only help you understand what is being said, but it will also take some of the “cognitive load” off of your brain so it can concentrate on other tasks. There are several different types of hearing aids available, including a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA).
When selecting a hearing aid, there’s something we’d like you to keep in mind: Our ear doctors at Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat are independent—our practice is not a franchise. We’re also not a part of a university health system or a large business.
This means we have no obligation to work with any one hearing aid company, and we can provide a wider variety of styles that can be tailored to fit your individual hearing needs. We understand that one type of hearing aid is not right for everyone—even if they are experiencing the same type of hearing loss. Our site offers a wide variety of information on hearing aids.
Music therapy has also proven to be very effective because music can stimulate the part of the brain that is inactive due to problems with dementia.
Raleigh Capitol ENT is the Leader in Treating Hearing Loss
Did you know there is a difference between an audiologist and a hearing aid dispenser? A hearing aid dispenser only needs to have a high school diploma and can only conduct basic hearing tests. By comparison, our audiologists must have more than 1,800 hours of clinical training and a minimum of a master’s degree. Audiologists can also diagnose more than mere hearing loss; they can assess balance disorders. We’re proud of our audiology team, who represent the best of their profession.
If you believe you are experiencing hearing loss, please schedule an appointment with one of our leading audiologists. The connection between hearing loss and dementia means it’s more important than ever to hear well.