Did you know that by the time most Americans reach their 70s, two-thirds have hearing loss?
Although generally hearing loss and dementia are commonly associated with aging, recent studies show that there is a link between untreated hearing loss and cognitive problems including dementia.
A Johns Hopkins study by Dr. Frank Lin indicated a link between untreated hearing loss and cognitive problems including dementia. Compared to normal hearing:
- Those with mild loss were twice as likely to develop dementia
- Those with a severe loss were 5 times as likely to develop dementia
- For every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the risk of developing dementia grew by 20%.
Further studies by the Health, Aging and Body Composition, reveal that treating hearing loss more aggressively may help stave off cognitive decline and dementia.
Dr. Lin and his colleagues tracked the overall cognitive abilities (including concentration, memory and planning skills) of nearly 2,000 older adults whose average age was 77. After six years, those who began the study with hearing loss severe enough to interfere with conversation were 24 percent more likely than those with normal hearing to see their cognitive abilities diminish. Essentially, the researchers said, hearing loss seemed to speed up age-related cognitive decline.
A previous study by Lin and his colleagues revealed similar findings – the worse the initial hearing loss, the more likely the person was to develop dementia. After monitoring the cognitive health of 639 people for 12 to 18 years, researchers found that those with moderate hearing loss had triple the risk for dementia compared with people of normal hearing. Specifically, the risk of dementia increases among those with a hearing loss greater than 25 decibels. For study participants over the age of 60, 36 percent of the risk for dementia was associated with hearing loss.
HOW HEARING LOSS MAY CONTRIBUTE TO DEMENTIA
There are three main theories for how hearing loss may contribute to cognitive decline and dementia.
- Cognitive Load – Because the brain is constantly coping with degraded sounds because its resources are dedicated to processing those sounds, this impairs its other processes such as memory and thinking.
- Brain Atrophy – Hearing impairment may directly contribute to accelerated rates of atrophy in parts of the brain that process sound. Because parts of the brain don’t work in isolation, hearing loss may play a role in memory and sensory integration. Studies show a relation between the early stages of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Social Isolation – People who have a hard time hearing often withdraw because it’s so difficult to communicate with others. Numerous studies have found that a loss of engagement and loneliness are risk factors for cognitive decline.
DON’T BE A BAD STATISTIC
If you have hearing loss, it makes sense to get it treated. The connection between hearing loss and dementia, raises the possibility that treating hearing loss more aggressively could help stave off cognitive decline and dementia.
Unfortunately, even though The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates that nearly 25 percent of those age 65 through 74 and 50 percent of those 75 and older have disabling hearing loss, few people seek the help they need.
Here are the numbers:
- An estimated 26 million Americans age 20 to 69 have high-frequency hearing loss due to noise exposure;
- Although many adults 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30 percent) use them.
- Only 16 percent of adults age 20 to 69 who could benefit from hearing aids use them.
If you are concerned you may have hearing loss, it is important that you have your hearing checked as soon as possible. Dr. Joe Griffith, AuD,CCC-A is a certified audiologist who makes “house calls”. Call him at (504) 738-4557 or visit accessiblehearing.com to schedule your hearing test today. You are just a phone call away from the hearing help you need and deserve.