There is a hidden link between hearing loss and dementia. Did you know that hearing loss can play a significant role in the development of dementia? Study after study concluded that the risks of developing dementia increase depending on the severity of a person’s hearing impairment.
Clarifying What Dementia Is
Dementia is a general term for the degeneration of thinking, remembering, or making logical decisions capabilities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Although the disease primarily affects seniors, it is not a normal part of aging.
In severe cases, dementia can negatively affect a person’s ability to perform basic, everyday tasks. The disability can even damage the person’s ability to speak. Navigating social situations is one of the challenges of people living with dementia.
People with dementia find it hard to connect with others. For one, they can’t hold on to the names, faces, interests, or anything they can associate with the memory of other people. Another reason is that a simple conversation is difficult to hold if you forget what the other person says minutes after saying it, which is a common difficulty people with dementia face.
Looking at the symptoms of dementia, we can begin to see the connection between hearing loss and dementia.
Looking at the Stats of Demantia
Experts discovered that a person’s risks of mental decline increase as they lose their hearing. Mild hearing loss seems to increase the chances of developing dementia two times higher in the next ten years. Moderate loss of hearing increases the risks three times, and severe hearing loss increases the risks of dementia five times.
Aside from the increased chances of developing dementia, hearing loss seems to expedite the process. Scientists discovered that mental decline in people with dementia is 30 to 40 percent faster than in people with normal hearing.
Although there are no definite links between the two medical conditions, an expert formulated theories on why hearing loss and dementia seem to go hand in hand. The expert is Johns Hopkins University’s very own Frank Lin, MD, Ph.D.
The Potential Links Between Dementia and Hearing Loss
The Social Link
What has hearing got to do with dementia? The symptoms of dementia significantly affect the social lives of people living with the disease. And of all the five primary senses, hearing is perhaps the most important socially.
When a person loses their sense of hearing, they may feel isolated and lonely. Research has proven that there is a definite link between being lonely or isolated and dementia. And, looking at the big picture of how the human body works, this makes sense.
The human brain is in charge of the many processes of the body. Losing an aspect of its function, like social stimulation, incurs repercussions. Humans are naturally social. And being forced to stop being social is not natural nor healthy.
The Brainpower Link
As impressive as the human brain is, it has its limits. The brain has to exert more effort processing auditory cues when you can’t hear well. Another theory why hearing loss leads to dementia is that the brain’s resources become depleted faster if the person can’t hear.
The brain contains many tiny neurons responsible for memory and processing various cues and signals, including auditory cues. If these neurons have to be taxed harder than usual, they can easily consume a huge chunk of the brain’s resources.
And if the brain wastes its resources on processing auditory signals, it can’t perform its other tasks well. Theoretically, this increases the chances of developing dementia. The brain begins to lose its other capabilities, such as remembering or thinking.
The Shrinking Brain Link
Another theory that Doctor Lin suggested is the possibility of the brain shrinking when hearing is lost. This theory suggests that the lack of hearing causes the hearing nerves to send fewer signals to the brain. In turn, the brain declines and shrinks.
This theory is backed by studies that show people who lost their hearing experience brain atrophy, or shrinking, more quickly than people with normal hearing.
Don’t Ignore Loss of Hearing
It does not mean that having hearing problems means that you will have dementia. It only means that the risks of having the disease increases. But just the fact that mental decline is more prominent among people with hearing loss should convince them that they have to seek treatment.
Fortunately, there are treatments available for loss of hearing. Hearing aids and cochlear implants, though not permanent solutions, can help combat hearing loss problems.
Dr. Frank Lin says that there are no tests yet that provide answers on whether a hearing aid can help combat the decline of the brain towards dementia. However, he also believes that there’s no harm in using technology to allow people without their sense of hearing to reconnect socially.
Dr. Lin was wrong – there is a study establishing the link between hearing aids and combatting mental decline. The American Journal of Epidemiology found that Alzheimer’s patients with hearing loss slowed their rate of cognitive decline when they used hearing aids.
It is vital to address medical concerns as soon as possible. Loss of hearing is just one of those concerns that anyone should not have to live with for whatever reason. The most common reasons why people who have hearing loss don’t seek treatment are:
- Denial – people with hearing problems usually wait a decade before seeking help. They reason that their hearing is not that bad. However, they risk isolation and mental decline in those years they wait.
- Worrying – loss of hearing is closely associated with aging, and people don’t want to appear old and helpless by acknowledging their hearing problem.
- Money – treating hearing loss is costly. And that prevents many people with hearing problems from seeking out treatment.
Whatever the reason is for not wanting to seek treatment, people with hearing loss should seek treatment. The risks of developing dementia and other health concerns can potentially cause more significant pain and suffering later on. Visit ENT Allergy and Sinus today to learn all the treatments we offer for hearing loss. Reach out to us and live life fully again.