By midlife, cognitive decline is common and progressive, however, when you begin to forget long-term memories and everyday processes, it can signal more serious cognitive issues. Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease, classified by the loss of two or more cognitive functions and ultimately progresses to the loss of the ability to navigate life independently. While there is no known cure for dementia there are several behaviors you can engage in throughout your life that can decrease your risk of developing dementia in the first place. Among these is addressing hearing loss.
Modifiable Factors of Dementia
Dementia often manifests itself as amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles which interrupt communication between brain cells and slowly cause the death of brain tissue. Ultimately this affects cognitive functions such as memory, critical thinking, judgment, reasoning. Medical technology continues to advance and with this so does life expectancy and this is leading to higher and higher cases of dementia.
Age is one risk factor of dementia that cannot be modified, however, there are several that can. In 2017 the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention, and care named 9 modifiable risks of dementia and added three more in 2020. These include less education, hypertension, hearing impairment, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, low social contact, excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injury, and air pollution. The twelfth modifiable is addressing a hearing loss. The more of these risk factors you address during your lifetime, the lower your chance is of avoiding the devastating effects of dementia which affects not only you but your loved ones who are left to provide 24/7 care.
Understanding Hearing Loss
It’s estimated that 1 in 8 people experience some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears, making it the third most chronic condition to affect seniors in the US. It’s often undiagnosed or unaddressed leaving people with gaps in their hearing which affects how clearly they can communicate. A misunderstanding is common for anyone, but as it becomes normal, it can impact personal and professional relationships alike, causing chronic depression, lack of activity, loss of mobility, and confusion.
Causes of Hearing Loss
There are several causes of hearing loss including exposure to loud sounds, impact to the head, chemical exposure, or chronic ear infections. All these factors can damage the tiny hair cells within the inner ear, which send audio information to the brain. It’s often parts of words that are lost first but as hearing loss progresses, it becomes more difficult to follow conversation and be alert of sound in your environment. What is most important to understand about hearing loss is that it is permanent.
Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia
So, what is the link between hearing loss and dementia? It’s difficult for your brain when parts of words or whole words in sentences are lost. It requires our brains to strain and work harder. In fact, it can cause many to want to avoid social situations altogether due to the mental fatigue hearing loss can induce.
Lack of social engagement is another contributing factor to hearing loss. When hearing loss inhibits social engagement, it can become another risk factor of dementia, which can be lessened by the treatment of hearing loss.
Research around Hearing Loss and Dementia
A significant study linking hearing loss and dementia was by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and published in 2019. The study compiled self-reported medical data from 10,107 participants 62 years or older around hearing loss and cognitive ability. The study identified that those with hearing loss have significantly higher rates of cognitive decline confirming that the higher the degree of hearing loss, the greater the risk of dementia. Findings showed:
- 30% higher for people with mild hearing loss
- 42% higher for people with moderate hearing loss
- 54% higher for people with severe hearing loss
Benefits of Treatment
While there is no cure for hearing loss it can be effectively treated using hearing aids. These electronic devices sit in or close to the ear canal and amplify the specific tones and pitches lost. Hearing aids allow you to connect to people at home and work, help you feel more confident, active, and generally improved in mood. Hearing aids can also help slow down the effects of cognitive decline. Don’t let your hearing go unaddressed. Schedule a hearing exam now and join the fight against dementia.