Is Hearing Loss Linked to Dementia?
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We can all be a little stubborn at times, especially when it comes to hearing loss. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you at least suspect that you may have hearing loss. You’ve probably suspected it for a long time. All those times the neighbors asked you to turn down the TV or radio, all those conversations you struggled to follow in public places, all those times you realized you were talking just a little louder than everyone else… Sooner or later we all stop chalking these things up to coincidence. Nonetheless, many of us can be resistant to the idea of seeking treatment.
However, when left untreated, hearing loss has been connected to a wide range of other more serious mental and physical health issues including stress, anxiety, hypertension, depression and even dementia. Here we’ll look at the links between hearing loss and dementia, as well as how seeking the advice of a hearing health professional can help you.
How can hearing loss be linked to dementia?
You may be incredulous at the link between hearing loss and dementia but there is an increasingly robust body of evidence that suggests that the two are inextricably linked. If left untreated hearing loss can accelerate the onset of dementia. This is due to a range of factors. When we have hearing loss, we tend to become more withdrawn, participating less and less in conversation as it becomes increasingly difficult, stressful and exhausting.
This can tend to lead in many cases to isolation and loneliness, although it also has an even more insidious effect. Withdrawing in this way leads certain parts of our brain, the parts which are stimulated by social engagement and conversation, to atrophy. Moreover, your brain diverts resources that would be used elsewhere to process the sounds that we hear to try and make sense of them (which is why it can take such a long time for those of us with hearing loss to answer even simple questions).
The link between hearing loss and dementia is no product of idle speculation. It’s backed up with some extremely relevant recent studies. Frank Lin, an otologist and epidemiologist at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University has done some sterling work in bringing the link between hearing loss and dementia to the attention of the public.
In a 2011 study focusing on dementia, Lin’s team monitored the cognitive health of 639 volunteers who were all of normal mental acuity when the test began some 12-18 years prior. The study revealed a shocking correlation between hearing loss and dementia, with those who had just moderate hearing loss facing triple the risk of cognitive decline.
A further study in 2013 tracked the overall cognitive abilities of almost 2,000 older volunteers with an average age of 77. Over six years, those with hearing loss were found to be 24 percent more likely to experience a loss in cognitive faculties.
There is hope!
Do not despair. Just because you have hearing loss does not mean that dementia or cognitive loss are inevitable. Seeking treatment as early on as possible can help to prevent this cognitive decline and help you back on the path to robust brain health!