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Did you know that hearing loss can increase the risk of developing dementia by 91%? This finding from the latest research on hearing loss and dementia shows a significant link between the conditions. Fortunately, treating hearing loss not only transforms hearing health but also brain health. Treatment can reduce the risk of experiencing cognitive decline, and associated conditions like dementia.
Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia
Many studies show a correlation between hearing loss and dementia. A significant study that investigates the relationship between hearing loss and dementia was conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford. This study involved over 82,000 people who were 60 years old and older. Researchers evaluated and categorized hearing abilities as: normal, insufficient, or poor speech-in-noise hearing. They also assessed hearing and cognitive capacities 11 years later and found that 1,285 participants developed dementia. After comparing these participants with those who did not develop dementia, researchers 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.
This data shows that people with hearing loss, whether mild or more profound, were more likely to develop dementia. These findings also highlight that the degree of hearing loss can further increase the risk of developing dementia. This study supports extensive research that identifies hearing loss as a risk factor for dementia.
Impact of Hearing Loss on Brain Health
Hearing loss can impact the brain in significant ways. It is helpful to understand that there are specific parts of the brain that are responsible for processing auditory information. So when hearing loss is present, these areas of the brain can be specifically impacted in ways that contribute to cognitive decline. This includes:
- Brain atrophy: hearing loss occurs when the brain receives less auditory information. The portions of the brain that are responsible for processing this information become inactive which can shrink these areas. This can lead to a loss of neurons and changes in neural networks, contributing to cognitive decline.
- Cognitive overload: due to less auditory information, the brain uses more energy to try and hear. This overwork the brain, leading to cognitive load which can contribute to cognitive decline.
- Social withdrawal: a common outcome of untreated hearing loss is social withdrawal. To cope with symptoms, people often avoid conversations as much as possible. This includes spending less time with loved ones and avoiding social activities. Social withdrawal can mean less engagement and stimulation for the brain which can contribute to cognitive decline as well.
The effects that hearing loss can have on brain health can increase the risk of cognitive decline. This is a key characteristic of conditions like dementia, a medical condition that is irreversible. It is important to prioritize your hearing health which is an effective way of supporting your brain health.
Hearing Aids Support Brain Health
Fortunately, there are effective ways hearing loss is treated and treatment supports brain health. The most common treatment is hearing aids which are electronic devices that are designed to absorb and process speech as well as sound. This provides the ears and brain with significant support, alleviating symptoms and maximizing one’s hearing capacity. The following studies highlight the positive impact hearing aids have on brain health:
- University of Melbourne Study: researchers assessed nearly 100 people (ages 62-82) prior to wearing hearing aids and 18 months after wearing hearing aids. 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 performed memory tests on 2,000 people (ages 50 and older). They found that wearing hearing aids improved test scores, allowing them to conclude that hearing aids can improve cognitive functions and brain health.
These studies show that hearing aids can reduce the risk of developing dementia. Hearing aids offer life-changing benefits including strengthening hearing and communication as well as brain health. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation which is the first step towards treating hearing loss!