Dementia is typically considered a progressive deterioration and refers to a cluster of symptoms ranging from memory loss; difficulty concentrating, planning, or organizing; confusion and needing help with activities of daily living (ADL); problems with language and understanding; and changes in behaviors. A study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that older adults with a greater severity of hearing loss were more likely to have dementia.
The findings were based from a nationally representative sample of more than 2,400 adults. The results suggests that hearing loss may be a contributing factor to dementia risk over time, and treating hearing loss may lower dementia risk.
The study analyzed the dataset from the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS). The NHATS uses a nationwide sample of Medicare beneficiaries over 65, with a focus on the 90 and older group. In the sample of 2413 participants, half the group was over 80 years old, and showed a clear association between the severity of hearing loss and dementia.
Prevalence of dementia among participants with moderate/severe hearing loss was 61% higher than participants who had normal hearing.
Hearing aid use was associated with 32% lower prevalence of dementia in the participants who had moderate/severe hearing loss.
This not only demonstrates that hearing loss and dementia are connected, but is leading scientists to believe that hearing loss may actually be a cause of dementia. Although the evidence remains to be unclear, researchers have various theories and implications to support this claim. One of these theories takes a closer examination of the impact on the brain activity having either too much, or too little stimulation.
Brain strain and social isolation – Hearing loss causes the brain to work harder, which can severely impact thinking and memory systems. Listening fatigue is a term coined to describe the exhaustion and burnout that an individual with hearing loss experiences after attending social gatherings, or attempts to engage and follow conversations taking place around them. Someone with hearing loss has to work twice as hard to understand and follow discussions, so the amount of energy they exhort to try to keep up can be very draining. This can take a toll on one’s memory system, and ultimately their brain due to over-working themselves.
On the contrary, the brain can also be less engaged and active when one encounters problems with their hearing. This is due to less social interaction, which leads to less stimulation of the brain. It is very common for those with hearing loss to socially withdrawal themselves and hide from situations where they would be faced with interactions. A low amount of interaction with peers, family members, co-workers, friends, etc. can be very unhealthy for brain health.
Other health concerns: Those who are living with hearing loss are also experiencing difficulties in many aspects of their lives: understanding and following physicians’ instructions, engaging in intimate conversations, appear to be uninterested in social interactions, following directions or instructions that are expressed orally, hearing and responding to weather alerts and other warning sounds such as sirens, localizing and/or hearing origins of unexpected sounds in their immediate vicinity, and much more.
Based on these findings, a challenging question raised is: Could hearing aids reduce the risk of a person developing dementia?
From what we learned in this study, it can be concluded that there is a connection between hearing loss and dementia. Whether or not wearing hearing aids can slow down the risk of dementia remains to be unknown. However, there is evidence to support that this is true, as the data above points out that hearing aid use was associated with 32% lower prevalence of dementia.
After learning this information, you may be asking yourself, “Where do I go from here?” The best thing you can do to protect yourself from developing hearing loss, dementia, and other health problems in your older age is to regularly schedule hearing tests. A professional audiologist can help give you an accurate diagnosis on your hearing, and monitor any changes over the past year.
Keep your hearing, and your brain, sharp by scheduling a hearing test at Lake Shore Audiology. Our expert audiologist will help treat and diagnosis any hearing related issues you may be experiencing. Call us at 716-674-4188 to make an appointment.