Many variables go into calculating someone’s risk for dementia, but hearing loss is one of the biggest determining factors, according to a 2020 report by the Lancet Commission.
The precise connection between hearing loss and dementia has been at the top of researchers’ minds for years. But there’s no question about it; people with hearing loss are more likely to get dementia.
The Effects of Hearing Loss
Seniors with untreated hearing loss often develop dementia because it affects more than your sense of hearing. When you can’t hear, it can affect your relationships and ability to interact within society.
You may notice yourself asking people to repeat themselves multiple times or find it difficult to have a conversation in a noisy restaurant. Or, maybe you’re less involved in conversations because it’s too difficult to keep up. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves and misinterpreting words can lead to frustration, sadness, and sometimes even social isolation.
Struggling to hear in situations like these puts strain on your brain. Scientists believe that in addition to other risk factors, the stress placed on the brain from untreated hearing loss is one element that leads to dementia. A study of over 6000 individuals found a correlation between gradual hearing loss and decreased brain functionality.
In fact, seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing, another study by a Johns Hopkins and National Institute on Aging researchers suggests.
Your Risk For Dementia
Dementia is an all-encompassing term used to describe a group of generalized symptoms, a few of which include memory loss, difficulty communicating and issues with problem-solving. According to the CDC, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, though it is not the only one.
Like hearing loss, dementia can affect your relationships with family and friends, your ability to participate in your favorite hobbies, or complete everyday activities.
The similarities in these disorders may also suggest a common underlying issue. The specific link between the two conditions is still under investigation, but the consistencies between those with hearing loss who were later diagnosed with dementia still demonstrate a clear risk if you ignore the warning signs.
To put it in perspective, research suggests that people with a mild hearing impairment — such as having trouble following a conversation in a busy restaurant — are nearly twice as likely as folks with normal hearing to develop dementia. However, for those with severe hearing loss — such as only hearing loud noises — your risk is nearly 5 times greater.
What This Means for Seniors
Hearing loss is only one of several modifiable risk factors that result in higher rates of dementia. Modifiable risks are things you can control, like your diet, exercise, stress levels, or sleep.
Fortunately, this means we all have a hand in attempting to lower our risk. While you can’t change your genetics, you can protect your hearing, even if you already have some hearing loss.
The 2020 Lancet Commission report on dementia also claimed that using hearing aids appeared to reduce the excess risk from hearing loss. Getting fit for hearing aids by a hearing care professional ensures that you don’t need to put additional stress on your brain to process sounds.
Hearing aids also allow you to engage more confidently in your relationships. You can be more involved in your favorite activities, pick up on nuances and tones when people speak, and contribute to conversations wholeheartedly.
Hearing loss can sneak up on you, with others around you most likely noticing it before you. Listen to the people closest to you when they tell you it may be time to get your hearing checked out.
Detecting and Preventing Hearing Loss
The best way to prevent hearing loss and potentially dementia is to protect your hearing. Reducing your exposure to loud sounds and visiting an audiologist for annual hearing exams can give you a greater chance to protect and preserve your hearing.
Just as you would go to the eye doctor to update your vision prescription or to the dentist for a cleaning, going to a trusted audiologist should be a regular occurrence, especially once you have detected hearing loss.
If you’re worried that your hearing loss might be negatively affecting more than just your sense of hearing, book your appointment with Dr. Amanda Kluzynski, Au.D today! Call (727) 584-9696 for a free consultation.