Hearing Loss & Dementia

For a long time, hearing loss was seen as something that affected only the ears. But a growing body of research has linked the condition to a host of long-term conditions, including most worryingly, dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disease that affects the thoughts, memories, behaviors, emotions and mood of your brain. Most adults who experience Alzheimer’s disease are 65 years old or older and it affects many people worldwide. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia reported, accounting for approximately 90% of the different types of dementia reported. It is one of the most common causes of death in this country for older adults.

Any precondition, such as hearing loss, which makes dementia more likely to occur deserves our attention.

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A link between hearing loss and dementia

A 2011 study showed that hearing loss can increase your chance of developing dementia. The study was led by Dr. Frank Lin, Professor of Otolaryngology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, who gathered a group of scientists across the United States.

The study focused on a group of over 600 adults. Between 1990 and 1994, these individuals completed a series of tests to assess their mental and hearing abilities and were tracked until 2008. During these years, scientists also tracked the potential development of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia in these individuals. About a third of the group had some form of hearing loss and the remaining participants had no problems hearing. None had dementia at the start of the study.

The researchers concluded that those who experienced hearing loss at the start of the study were far more prone to developing dementia — the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the chance of dementia. In fact, Dr. Frank Lin estimated that for every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the chance of dementia jumped by 20%. The risk was worse for those participants who were 60 years of age or older—36% of their dementia risk was estimated to be associated with hearing loss.

A supporting study

Dr. Lin’s findings were echoed in a separate study conducted by French academics last year. Hélène Amieva and a team of epidemiologists and biostatisticians looked at the link between hearing aid use and dementia in a large-scale longitudinal study. This research monitored the effects of hearing loss on the long-term health outcomes of the participants.

The study found that those who used hearing aids were no more likely than the general public to develop dementia, which practically erases the risk of hearing loss which existed in other studies.

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Why the connection between hearing loss and dementia?

According to Dr. Lin, there are three main theories for how hearing loss may contribute to cognitive decline and dementia.

Hearing loss is not just an ear issue

Hearing loss is so widespread that it has long been thought of as a normal part of getting older and no major cause of concern. But the studies we’ve highlighted have shown that there may be a greater risk to health than expected, and that interventions as basic as hearing aids could have a huge impact on healthy brain function.

It’s therefore important to monitor your hearing loss regularly in order to reduce the chances of dementia. The easiest way to do this is with an annual hearing test.

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