Dementia and hearing loss, what’s the connection? Brain health and hearing loss have a connection which medical science is beginning to understand. Your risk of getting cognitive decline is higher with even mild hearing loss, as it turns out.
These two seemingly unrelated health conditions may have a pathological connection. So how can a hearing exam help reduce the risk of hearing loss related dementia?
What is dementia?
The Mayo Clinic states that dementia is a cluster of symptoms that change memory, alter the ability to think clearly, and reduce socialization skills. Alzheimer’s is a common form of cognitive decline most people think of when they hear the word dementia. Alzheimer’s means progressive dementia that affects about five million people in the U.S. Precisely how hearing health impacts the risk of dementia is finally well understood by scientists.
How hearing works
The ear mechanisms are extremely complex and each one is important in relation to good hearing. As waves of sound vibration travel towards the inner ear, they get amplified. Inside the labyrinth of the inner ear, little hair cells shake in response to the sound waves to send electrical signals that the brain decodes.
Over time these tiny hairs can become irreversibly damaged from exposure to loud sound. Comprehension of sound becomes much more difficult due to the reduction of electrical impulses to the brain.
Research reveals that this gradual loss of hearing isn’t simply an irrelevant part of aging. Whether the signals are unclear and jumbled, the brain will attempt to decipher them anyway. The ears can become strained and the brain exhausted from the extra effort to hear and this can ultimately result in a higher risk of developing cognitive decline.
Here are a few disease risk factors with hearing loss in common:
- Trouble learning new skills
- Reduction in alertness
- Impaired memory
- Overall diminished health
The risk of developing cognitive decline can increase depending on the extent of your hearing loss, too. Even minor hearing loss can double the odds of dementia. More significant hearing loss means three times the danger and somebody with extreme, neglected loss of hearing has up to five times the risk of developing dementia. Research by Johns Hopkins University tracked the cognitive skills of over 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. They found that hearing loss significant enough to interfere with conversation was 24 percent more likely to cause memory and cognitive issues.
Why a hearing exam matters
Not everybody appreciates how even slight hearing loss impacts their overall health. For most, the decline is progressive so they don’t always recognize there is a problem. As hearing declines, the human brain adapts gradually so it makes it less noticeable.
We will be able to effectively evaluate your hearing health and track any changes as they happen with regular hearing exams.
Using hearing aids to decrease the risk
Scientists currently think that the connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss has a lot to do with the brain strain that hearing loss produces. Based on that one fact, you might conclude that hearing aids decrease that risk. The strain on your brain will be decreased by using a hearing aid to filter out unwanted background noise while boosting sounds you want to hear. The sounds that you’re hearing will come through without as much effort.
There is no rule that says people with normal hearing won’t end up with dementia. But scientists think hearing loss speeds up that decline. The key to decreasing that risk is routine hearing tests to diagnose and treat gradual hearing loss before it can have an impact on brain health.
If you’re concerned that you might be suffering from hearing loss, call us today to schedule your hearing assessment.