Hearing Loss and Dementia


Dementia is a leading cause of death in the U.S., affecting more people than diabetes or the flu. It is an illness that affects people as they age, developing in between around 30 percent of people over 70. In the coming years, the number of Americans living with this disease will also rise because the next generation will enter old age and are projected to live longer.

Hearing loss and dementia

While it may not immediately seem obvious, a growing body of research suggests that the risk of dementia can increase as a result of hearing loss.

This link was first identified in a study by Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Frank Lin, a professor of otolaryngology, and his colleagues found that mild hearing loss doubled the risk of dementia in a long-term study that monitored 639 adults for nearly 12 years. A Moderate hearing loss led to three times the risk, and individuals were five times more at risk when they had a severe hearing impairment.

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In what ways can hearing loss lead to dementia?

To answer this question, we first need to understand the nature of dementia. The condition affects perception, memory, and thought problems and occurs when the brain parts used for learning, memory, decision-making, and language become impaired.

Hearing loss has three effects on the brain:

Hearing loss also makes dementia appear worse

Hearing loss may also make it look like someone is in the latter stages of dementia when they are in the middle or even earlier stages. In other words, the cognitive (thinking) difficulties of an affected person might not be as severe as they seem. It can be easy to believe that problems are triggered by dementia when hearing treatment may be the key instead.

Also, normal hearing triggers the brain to listen and respond appropriately. When it’s too hard to hear, someone with dementia can decide to switch off instead of mentally engaging in conversation. Again this has the effect of making their dementia seem worse than it is.

What can be done to reduce my risk?

Are you one of the 35 million who are suffering from hearing loss? Act soon to treat your hearing. Early detection is crucial to safeguarding your cognitive abilities. And even if you don’t think you’re suffering from hearing loss, if you’re over 50, it’s vital to schedule an annual screening to keep a close eye on your hearing health.

Older adults who regularly use a hearing aid for a newly diagnosed hearing loss have a lower risk of first-time dementia, depression, or anxiety. They also enjoy a lower risk of fall-related injury than those who keep their hearing loss untreated, a 2019 study by Michigan University found.

Despite this good news, the report also finds that only 12 percent of people with a formal hearing loss diagnosis will acquire and wear the devices — even though they have medical coverage that would pay for at least part of the cost, the research reveals.

According to Elham Mahmoudi, the health economist who conducted the study:

“Though hearing aids can’t be said to prevent these conditions, a delay in the onset of dementia, depression, and anxiety, and the risk of serious falls, could be significant both for the patient and for the costs to the Medicare system.”

As new research continues to be released, hearing aids could be one of the most significant weapons in the battle against dementia. If you or your family might be at risk, don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with us today.