While hearing begins with the ears the comprehension happens in the brain. When hearing loss develops it takes away the ability for sounds to reach the brain. This requires the brain to work overtime causing a higher cognitive load for social interactions which used to feel easy. This is just one way that healthy hearing is vital to our overall health, especially as we age. One in three people over 65 deal with some degree of hearing loss in the US and this number rises to one in two, by the time people reach 75 and older. This means that the importance of screening your hearing as you age becomes more essential due to the added risk. Catching hearing loss in the early stages can prevent serious impact to cognitive function and even prevent or delay the onset of dementia.
Report Identifying Preventable Factors of Dementia
A 2017 report from the American Academy of Audiology identified the major risks of developing dementia. The study by Loriebeth D’Elia found that “Hearing loss, and other modifiable factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking, may contribute to about one-third of the overall risk for getting dementia. The other two-thirds of the overall risk is thought to be influenced by uncontrollable factors, such as genetic predisposition.”
However, the study found that the number one modifiable risk factor in preventing dementia was treating hearing loss in mid-life. There are many reasons why this is suspected. One factor is the social impact of hearing loss, making it more difficult to connect to friends, family, significant others and co-workers. This can cause a blow to self-esteem, self-confidence and cause chronic depression. The study noted that “ There is also a strong relationship between hearing loss and depression in adults, both of which are other modifiable risk factors for dementia. Wearing appropriately fit hearing aids can improve communication with friends and family, ease social interactions, lessen effort exerted on listening, and improve the overall quality of life. 2”
How are hearing loss and cognitive decline connected?
A separate study from Johns Hopkins University followed a group of seniors over a six year span. Members of the group had different degrees of hearing ability and were tested for cognitive ability over the six years. The study found that adults who had hearing loss declined on cognitive tests 30-40% faster than those with normal hearing. There are many theories as to why this is the case.
As stated before, when the brain struggles to receive audio information, it has to work that much harder to piece together the information. This can become incredibly exhausting to struggle through social situations in this matter. Over time this can stress the entire brain as it is forced to borrow energy from other areas of cognition, contributing to decline. If you ever feel exhausted after a long social interaction, this can be normal, but it is always a good idea to have your hearing tested to make sure you are not at risk for cognitive decline.
When people become exhausted due to hearing in social situations it is all too common for people to begin to avoid social interactions altogether. This mixed with lack of sound received can cause the brain to become under stimulation. Numerous studies find that brain cells can shrink or become damaged from a lack of stimulation. Many doctors believe that cell shrinkage is a major factor in contributing to dementia and cognitive decline.
How to protect your hearing and your brain
The sooner you identify and address a hearing loss the better your chances of stopping cognitive decline before it can fully develop. While age related hearing loss is in most cases irreversible, this does not mean that it is not untreatable. Hearing aids have been found to amplify the sounds you struggle with so you can participate fully in social situations and stay alert and aware of your environment. To find out what hearing aids can do for you, don’t delay. Contact us to schedule a hearing exam today. The sooner you know what you are dealing with, the sooner we can help you find the best individual solution for you and your hearing. Enjoy a higher quality of life today and address your hearing issues now.