Hearing Loss is Now Linked to Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

According to several major studies, older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and dementia, compared to those with normal hearing. Further, the risk escalates as a person's hearing loss grows worse. Those with mild hearing impairment are nearly twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those with normal hearing. The risk increases three-fold for those with moderate hearing loss, and five-fold for those with severe impairment.

Specifically, the risk of dementia increases among those with a hearing loss greater than 25 decibels. For study participants over the age of 60, 36 percent of the risk for dementia was associated with hearing loss.

How Are the Conditions Connected?

Although the reason for the link between hearing loss and dementia is not conclusive, study investigators suggest that a common pathology may underlie both, or that the strain of decoding sounds over time may overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss, leaving them more vulnerable to dementia. They also speculate that hearing loss could lead to dementia by making individuals more socially isolated—a known risk factor for dementia and other cognitive disorders.

In addition to being an important risk factor for Alzheimer's and dementia, multiple studies have shown that hearing loss worsens the symptoms of these diseases when they are already present. These symptoms include impaired memory, the inability to learn new tasks, reduced alertness, compromised personal safety, irritability, anger, fatigue, stress, depression, and diminished overall health.

Alzheimers patient with man

Can hearing aids help?

In response to these findings, further studies are underway to determine if hearing aids can delay, or even prevent, dementia and Alzheimer's by improving patients' hearing.

The bottom line

Generally speaking, hearing loss develops slowly. Our brain's own ability to compensate and adjust to gradual hearing changes makes hearing loss difficult to recognize. That's why it's extremely important to have annual hearing evaluations. Experts encourage people as young as 45 to have a baseline hearing screening. Catching and treating hearing loss early can slow, or stop, its progression.

Taking time to monitor your hearing may save many problems as you get older, you'll preserve more good hearing for life!

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a mental condition characterized by loss of memory, impaired communication, inability to focus, difficulty in judging and blighted visual perception, among many other symptoms. This condition normally affects adults who are in their sunset years, although it can affect anyone. Dementia can significantly have an impact on a person’s quality of life and inhibit their ability to perform normal routines.

Dementia’s Link to Hearing Loss

Damage to the brain cells is the leading cause of dementia. However, one of the first warning signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is hearing loss. The brain plays a critical role in interpreting the sounds we hear. From the onset of life, it takes years of practice for your brain to master sounds and interpret them accordingly. Nonetheless, if anything impedes the brain from interpreting sound signals, then you’re more likely to suffer from dementia.

Your inability to hear words clearly can greatly deprive your brain of normal auditory messages. If your brain cells cannot communicate with each other effectively, it might affect your thinking and memory. This will cause your brain to forget how to interpret sounds and eventually cause memory loss. The link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s comes into play at this point.

People suffering from hearing loss must go to great lengths to understand different sounds. The constant straining causes cognitive load, which might impede brain functions and cause dementia.

Patients who have hearing problems often feel isolated. Some may want to isolate themselves to avoid struggling to keep up with conversations. This self-isolation is dangerous and is one of the warning signs of cognitive decline and dementia.

Can Treating Hearing Loss Prevent Dementia?

Hearing loss and dementia are both highly treatable. Treating hearing loss promptly can massively reduce your chances of developing dementia. You can easily restore your natural hearing ability and greatly improve communication by using hearing aids. The ability to hear and understand sound helps improve memory and social interaction.

While research does not indicate whether hearing aids can prevent dementia, it is a known fact that these devices treat hearing loss, which is a precursor to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Where Can I Get Treatment for Hearing Loss?

You can get professional help for hearing loss at Beltone. We’re a group of highly qualified audiologists with vast experience in treating various hearing problems. We’ll perform a hearing screening and a comprehensive evaluation to determine the severity of your hearing loss.

Hearing loss tests are fast and painless. We understand some of our patients might not be able to come to our office, which is why we also offer in-home consultations and testing. Call Beltone audiologists today to schedule your in-home consultation.     

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