What are the Connections Between Hearing Loss and Dementia?

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Mild Hearing Loss: 2 times more likely to develop dementia; Moderate Hearing Loss: 3 times more likely to develop dementia; Severe Hearing Loss: 5 times more likely to develop dementia

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In the past, hearing loss was considered to be a relatively insignificant part of the normal aging process. However, recent findings have indicated strongly that the decline of hearing in older people can play a much more important role in their mental health. Since two-thirds of all Americans experience some degree of hearing loss by the age of 70, these findings are particularly troublesome.

Mr. Frank Lin, an otologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has been the driving force behind several studies that show a powerful link between hearing loss and a wide range of cognitive issues, including mild cognitive impairment through full-blown dementia. There are four possible connections which scientists now believe may link the two processes.

List of possible connections between hearing loss and dementia

  1. The avenue which represents the most obvious link is physiological. For example, a factor such as high blood pressure could cause both hearing loss and lead to dementia. While this remains a possibility, statistical evidence has thus far not supported a strong likelihood that physiological factors can be strong contributors to both conditions.
  2. A second possibility is referred to as the cognitive load, which is defined as having to devote a high volume of resources to understanding what is being heard, which in turn siphons off resources that could be used elsewhere for the storage of memories. The big question scientists have about this theory is whether or not years of this kind of strain at hearing and understanding, could impact brain functions like memory strongly enough to cause degraded functionality. This theory is currently being tested by isolated studies which are attempting to improve hearing via cochlear implants, in patients who also have dementia.
  3. Another possibility is that hearing loss may somehow impact brain structure such that it triggers cognitive issues and problems. It is known for instance, that brain imaging results of older people with hearing impairment sometimes show a lower volume of gray matter, especially in the brain sector responsible for processing auditory signals. The presence of less gray matter is not thought to be caused by having fewer brain cells, but by having more shrinkage in existing brain cells, probably due to less stimulation. This is another theory which is currently being tested by improving the hearing capabilities of patients with dementia.
  4. A fourth possibility which may be a link between impaired hearing and cognitive decline is social isolation. Many people who have difficulty hearing intentionally avoid social situations out of embarrassment. The fact that fewer social situations are participated in by an elderly person can then lead to cognitive decline, because of the reduced stimulation from being with others.

What are the chances that hearing loss leads to dementia?

Scientists have found that your chances for mental decline seem to get worse based on how bad your hearing problems are. One recent study found that even mild hearing loss doubles the chances for mental decline. At the same time, moderate and severe hearing loss increase your chances for mental decline by 3x and 5x respectively over a period of 10-plus years.

In addition, it seems to happen faster. Studies done of older adults who had at least some hearing loss found that on average they had mental decline 30%-40% faster. In other words, they had the same mental decline in 7.7 years, on average, as someone with normal hearing showed in 10.9 years.

Overall, there are clear links between hearing loss and dementia. The sooner your hearing loss is addressed with a proper hearing aid, the less chance you have of mental decline, and chances are that you mental decline will happen later if you hadn’t gotten the hearing aid.

The silver lining

Assuming that there really is a direct link between hearing loss and people experiencing various forms of cognitive decline, there may be some really positive news which comes out of these findings. It may be that by providing patients with technology that improves hearing, such as quality hearing aids that we offer at Sage Hearing, that cognitive decline may be staved off during senior years.

It may also even be possible to reverse the effects of cognitive decline to some extent by providing a dementia patient with the means to clearly hear all those sounds around them. The evidence accumulated in a growing number of studies on the subject, now strongly suggests that older people should periodically undergo a hearing test, and if necessary, should use a hearing aid in Portland, OR, to help slow down any effects of cognitive decline.

Best hearing aid to prevent mental decline

We recommend the ReSound LiNX Quattro as the best hearing aid to help delay and reduce mental decline. The new ReSound LiNX Quattro is the world’s first Premium-Plus hearing aid. The new chip platform has 100% faster processing and 100% additional memory. 100% of hearing care professionals who use it, recommend it, and 94% say it improves hearing care. With ReSound LiNX Quattro and the Layers of Sound you can inspire confidence. Click here for more info on the LiNX Quattro.

Experience ReSound LiNX Quattro today! Call Sage Hearing at (503) 747-3084.

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