In the past decade several scientific studies have shown an association of hearing loss with onset of dementia.  With one in eight people over the age of 12 suffering from some level of hearing decline, the importance of this line of study is clear. How are these two seemingly separate conditions linked, though, and how does treatment of hearing loss change the outcome?

What Causes Hearing Loss?

There are many factors involved in hearing loss, but the most common cause is aging. As a person grows older, delicate structures in the ears break down. Other possible causes include:

  • Traumatic damage to the ear from noise or disease
  • Ear infections or abnormal growths
  • Congenital defects

Some types of hearing loss are temporary, such as earwax build up. Hearing loss from noise, disease or trauma can be sudden but, for most people, it’s a gradual process.

Symptoms of hearing loss include:

  • Muffled sounds (especially speech)
  • Louder than normal background noises
  • Difficulty hearing consonants
  • The need to turn up the volume

What is the Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia?

A John Hopkins study (Lin 2011) showed that even a small amount of hearing loss doubles a person’s risk of dementia. Moderate to severe hearing loss makes it up to five times more likely that you will suffer from conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. The decline happens faster with hearing loss, too, as much as 40 percent faster.

The reason for this isn’t entirely clear, but the current theory is that hearing loss puts a strain on the brain and that increases the risk. When the brain must work harder to hear, it uses resources that would otherwise go to functions like short-term memory.

There is also a social factor involved in hearing loss and dementia. People with hearing loss tend to isolate themselves and that lack of social interaction increases the risk of dementia. It’s possible when the ears stop sending signals, the brain declines, as well, kind of like a muscle that doesn’t move will atrophy.

Most people notice they are struggling to remember things from time to time but dementia is more pronounced and chronic. Symptoms would include:

  • Difficulty finding words
  • Poor reasoning skills
  • Trouble handling complex tasks
  • Poor coordination
  • Confusion
  • Personality changes
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Paranoia

What about treatment?

A recent study (Glick and Sharma, 2020) showed that treatment of Age-Related Hearing Loss with hearing aids for six months improved speech perception and cognitive performance and reversed neurologic re-organization in the brain that results from loss of hearing.  This supports the belief that wearing hearing aids can help with the effects of dementia, such as helping regain speech understanding, and reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation.

At SoundPoint Audiology and Hearing, we offer free hearing assessments that involve a comprehensive hearing evaluation, as well as an expert consultation to discuss the evaluation results. We offer an array of affordable hearing aid options to meet every budget, cosmetic, and hearing loss need. If you are struggling to hear, contact SoundPoint Audiology and Hearing today.


References

Lin FR, Metter EJ, O’Brien RJ, Resnick SM, Zonderman AB, Ferrucci L. Hearing loss and incident dementia. Arch Neurol. 2011;68(2):214-220. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2010.362

Lin, F. R., Yaffe, K., Xia, J., Xue, Q. L., Harris, T. B., Purchase-Helzner, E., et al. (2013). Hearing loss and cognitive decline among older adults. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 25:173

Hannah Anneli Glick and Anu Sharma. Cortical Neuroplasticity and Cognitive Function in Early-Stage, Mild-Moderate Hearing Loss: Evidence of Neurocognitive Benefit From Hearing Aid Use.  Front. Neurosci., 18 February 2020 | https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2020.00093/full