A recent study shows that hearing loss can increase the risk of developing dementia by 91%. This study supports further research that identifies hearing loss as a risk factor for cognitive decline and associated conditions like dementia.
Dementia is expected to increase from impacting 50 million to 150 million people globally by 2050. Dementia is an umbrella term that includes various conditions that are characterized by cognitive decline. These medical conditions impair important cognitive functions including decision making, communication, memory, and more. This often takes a toll on capacity to navigate everyday life independently and safely. Dementia can also affect personality and behavior as well as impact relationships. Because dementia is irreversible, significant attention and research focuses on identifying risk factors that can be addressed to reduce the risk of developing cognitive decline. Studies have found that hearing loss is a risk factor that is correlated to cognitive decline and dementia.
Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia
Substantial research reveals that there is a correlation between hearing loss and dementia. A significant study that investigates this correlation was conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford. Researchers studied this link by evaluating the hearing and cognitive capacities of over 82,000 people who were at least 60 years old. Hearing abilities were categorized as: normal, insufficient, or poor speech-in-noise hearing. Researchers assessed these participants and then evaluated them again 11 years later. They found that 1,285 participants developed dementia and they compared these participants with those who didn’t develop dementia. They found that:
- People with insufficient hearing experienced a 61% increased risk of developing dementia compared to those with normal hearing.
- People with poor speech-in-noise hearing experienced a 91% increased risk of developing dementia compared to those with normal hearing.
These findings show that people with hearing loss were much more likely to experience dementia. Also, the degree of hearing loss also further increased the risk. This highlights that hearing loss can impact brain health.
Impact of Hearing Loss on Brain Health
Hearing loss not only involves the ears but also the brain. The ears absorb soundwaves and convert them into electrical signals that get sent to the brain. There are specific portions of the brain that are responsible for processing auditory information. So hearing loss also affects these areas of the brain in ways that can contribute to cognitive decline. This includes:
- Brain atrophy: hearing loss results in the brain receiving less auditory information. So the parts of the brain that are responsible for processing this information become less active and engaged. This inactivity can cause these portions of the brain to shrink, leading to a loss of neurons and restructuring of neural networks which can contribute to cognitive decline.
- Cognitive overload: hearing loss forces the brain to use greater energy and resources to detect and process speech and sound. This overloads the brain and can contribute to cognitive decline.
- Social withdrawal: a common effect of untreated hearing loss is social withdrawal. To cope with symptoms, it is common for people to avoid conversations and social interactions as much as possible. This can result in less stimulation and engagement for the brain.
These effects of untreated hearing loss can take a toll on brain health. This can contribute to cognitive decline, increasing the risk of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Hearing Aids Reduce Risk of Cognitive Decline
Fortunately, there are effective ways to treat hearing loss. Hearing aids are the most common treatment and these electronic devices provide ample support. Studies show that hearing aids can strengthen cognitive functions, supporting brain health and reducing the risk of cognitive decline. This includes the following two studies:
- University of Melbourne Study: researchers evaluated nearly 100 people (ages 62-82) before wearing hearing aids and 18 months after. They found that:
- “97% of participants showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function (mental ability to plan, organize information and initiate tasks)”.
- Study Published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society: researchers conducted memory tests on 2,000 people (ages 50 and older) and found that wearing hearing aids improved test scores. Researchers concluded that hearing aids can improve cognitive functions and brain health.
These studies reveal that hearing aids support brain health. Contact us today to learn more about treatment and to schedule an appointment for a hearing consolation.