Hearing Loss & Dementia

Research at Johns Hopkins University and others have confirmed what many audiologists and physicians have long known: there is an irrefutable link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Initial problems such as memory loss and an inability to concentrate can worsen over time. Left untreated, this may eventually lead to dementia and other forms of severe cognitive impairment.

Dementia and hearing loss research

In a study, published in 2013, close to 2,000 older adults (average age: 77) were tracked for a period of six years. Those who began the study with the worst hearing loss – impairment bad enough to interfere with daily conversational ability – were 24% more likely to see a decline in cognitive ability compared to individuals with normal hearing as well as a 30-40% accelerated rate of cognitive decline.

A similar study published in 2011 concluded that persons with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. These figures are striking and hard to refute.

Can hearing aids help prevent dementia?

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: hearing aids can help. Studies show that patients who treat their hearing loss with hearing devices reduce their odds of cognitive decline and, at the very least, delay the onset of dementia.

Early detection is key! If you are experiencing hearing loss, it’s best to seek treatment as soon as possible in order to avoid mental deterioration. Even if you are unaware of a problem, schedule a hearing evaluation in order to make sure. Because symptoms develop slowly, many patients adjust to gradual changes in hearing without realizing there is anything wrong.

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What is the correlation between hearing loss and dementia?

Though the reason for the correlation isn’t completely understood, several theories exist. It may be that the increased cognitive load the brain experiences when trying to hear properly taxes the resources that would otherwise be available for memory and concentration.

Research published in 2014 found that people with even mild hearing loss had shown more “gray matter” brain shrinkage in the areas where memory and hearing process information compared to people with normal hearing.

Damage to those areas is similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s disease. Another factor may be the social isolation many individuals with hearing loss experience; this lack of socialization has been shown to accelerate symptoms of cognitive decline and dementia.

Contact Big Sky Audiology Clinic at (406) 656-2003 for more information or to Schedule an Appointment

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