What’s the connection between hearing loss and dementia? Medical science has connected the dots between brain health and hearing loss. Your risk of developing cognitive decline is increased with even mild hearing loss, as it turns out.
Experts believe that there may be a pathological link between these two seemingly unrelated health problems. So, how does hearing loss put you in danger of dementia and how can a hearing exam help fight it?
What is dementia?
The Mayo Clinic states that dementia is a group of symptoms that alter memory, alter the ability to think clearly, and decrease socialization skills. Alzheimer’s is a prevalent type of cognitive decline most people think of when they hear the word dementia. Alzheimer’s means progressive dementia that affects around five million people in the U.S. Precisely how hearing health effects the risk of dementia is finally well understood by scientists.
How hearing works
When it comes to good hearing, every part of the complex ear component matters. Waves of sound go inside the ear canal and are amplified as they move toward the inner ear. Electrical signals are sent to the brain for decoding by tiny little hairs in the inner ear that shake in response to waves of sound.
Over the years these little hairs can become irreversibly damaged from exposure to loud noise. Comprehension of sound becomes much more difficult because of the decrease of electrical impulses to the brain.
Research reveals that this slow loss of hearing isn’t only an inconsequential part of aging. The brain tries to decode any messages sent by the ear even if they are garbled or unclear. The ears can become strained and the brain exhausted from the extra effort to hear and this can eventually result in a higher risk of developing cognitive decline.
Here are several disease risk factors with hearing loss in common:
- Trouble learning new skills
- Memory impairment
- Weak overall health
- Reduction in alertness
The odds of developing dementia can increase depending on the severity of your hearing loss, too. An individual with only minor hearing loss has double the risk. Hearing loss that is more severe will bring the risk up by three times and extremely severe neglected hearing loss can put you at up to a five times greater risk. The cognitive skills of over 2,000 older adults were studied by Johns Hopkins University over six years. They found that hearing loss significant enough to interfere with conversation was 24 percent more likely to cause memory and cognitive issues.
Why is a hearing exam worthwhile?
Not everyone realizes how even slight hearing loss impacts their overall health. For most people, the decline is progressive so they don’t always realize there is an issue. As hearing declines, the human brain adapts gradually so it makes it less obvious.
We will be able to effectively evaluate your hearing health and monitor any changes as they occur with regular hearing exams.
Using hearing aids to decrease the risk
Scientists presently think that the connection between dementia and hearing loss is largely based on the brain strain that hearing loss produces. Based on that one fact, you may conclude that hearing aids decrease that risk. A hearing assistance device amplifies sound while filtering out background noise that disrupts your hearing and eases the strain on your brain. The sounds that you’re hearing will get through without as much effort.
Individuals who have normal hearing can still possibly get dementia. But scientists think hearing loss speeds up that decline. The key to reducing that risk is regular hearing exams to diagnose and manage gradual hearing loss before it can have an impact on brain health.
If you’re concerned that you might be suffering from hearing loss, give us a call today to schedule your hearing examination.