Have you noticed an older relative showing signs of hearing loss and cognitive decline? That’s because there might be a link between the two.
Many experts have found facts pointing to a close connection between hearing loss and dementia, a condition marked by memory loss and an overall cognitive decline. Though it does not mean that everyone with hearing loss will develop dementia, it may increase the odds.
Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
All this while, we may have only considered hearing loss a part of aging and have never thought of its impact on brain health. A study conducted over a period of 10 years found that in people with mild, moderate and severe hearing loss, the risk of dementia increased by two, three and five times respectively.
Researchers feel that hearing loss and dementia may be linked because in people with significant hearing loss:
- The brain works harder to comprehend conversations and this might reduce its ability to do other activities like remembering things.
- When the ears do not pick up enough sounds, the nerves send a lesser number of signals to the brain, thus causing a decline in its activity. Brain imaging of seniors with hearing loss has shown lesser gray matter that is connected to processing sounds.
- Social isolation in people with hearing loss plays a key factor because these individuals often struggle to be part of conversations and social interactions. This forces them to stay away, thus making them lonely.
As hearing declines, the part of the brain that is used for processing sounds may be taken over by the parts that process other senses like touch and vision. The brain is known to gradually rewire itself to adjust to the new normal, which will eventually affect cognitive skills. This process is called compensatory brain reorganization and might be one of the main reasons linking hearing loss and dementia in older individuals.
Studies About Hearing Loss and Dementia
A study conducted in 2013 based their findings on different cognitive skills like concentration and memory among 2,000 participants with an average age of 77. It was found that those with severe hearing problems had a 24 percent higher risk of a decline in cognition than others with no hearing troubles. This led the researchers to conclude that hearing loss may speed up cognitive degeneration.
Another research, conducted in France, studied a group of 94 people between the ages of 65 and 85 with a severe hearing loss at least in one ear. Each participant underwent a cochlear implant and auditory rehabilitation (twice a week) and amazingly enough, those that had scored the lowest in various cognitive tests showed significant improvement in just one year.
A preliminary study is also being conducted to see if improving hearing has an impact on cognition. As part of it, people with dementia were given simple hearing aids and it was noticed that just within a month, all of them presented improved communication skills and an overall happier demeanor.
While this research is still in its early phases, we might be better off being cautious and getting our hearing tested if there are any signs of hearing loss.
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Griffin, K., & Bouton, K. (n.d.). Hearing Loss Linked to Memory Loss, Dementia. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-07-2013/hearing-loss-linked-to-dementia.html
Packer, L. (2015, June 18). New study shows hearing loss impacts brain function. Retrieved from https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52469-New-study-shows-hearing-loss-impacts-brain-function
Martin, D. S. (n.d.). Hearing Loss and Dementia: The Silent Connection. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/hearing-loss-dementia#1