Hearing loss is a major risk factor for dementia. It speeds up the mental decline of people who already have the condition. Studies have shown that those with moderate or severe hearing loss have a five-fold increase in the risk of developing dementia over 10 years. Those with a mild form of hearing impairment have a two-fold increase in the risk of developing dementia.
In addition to increased risk, people with both hearing loss and dementia experience social isolation, a factor that is also linked to the development of dementia. Taking steps to improve the environment for those with cognitive difficulties can help. These include limiting background noise and improving communication.
Depression and Dementia
Another factor that contributes to the risk of dementia is depression. Researchers have discovered that those with hearing loss may be at greater risk for developing a depressive episode. However, more research is needed to understand how hearing impairment interacts with depression in people with dementia. Other risk factors include smoking, and social isolation. If you think you have a hearing problem, you should seek help immediately. The sooner you get treatment, the better your chances are of avoiding the disease.
A study by Johns Hopkins University researchers has demonstrated that hearing loss and dementia may be linked. During a 12-year study, 639 adults with dementia and normal hearing were followed. They had MRI scans of their brains while they listened to sentences. Participants with hearing loss experienced a 30 to 50 percent faster rate of cognitive decline than those with normal hearing. While the study wasn’t able to determine whether or not untreated hearing loss caused the dementia, it suggested that the brain atrophy associated with hearing loss may play a role.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 27 million Americans are affected by hearing loss. About half of those with hearing impairment delay seeking treatment for at least seven to ten years. Although rehabilitative interventions exist, they are underutilized. One of the most effective ways to treat hearing impairment is to use a hearing aid.
Alzheimer’s and Hearing Loss Is A Tangled Web
Research has also indicated that there are connections between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and hearing loss. Specifically, people with Alzheimer’s are found to have changes in the auditory cortex of the brain. There are also abnormal accumulations of beta-amyloid 42, or neurofibrillary tangles, in the neurons. Some of these tangles can clump together and form plaques. People with Alzheimer’s have a higher prevalence of tangles in the MTL, the brain’s auditory pathway.
The relationship between hearing loss and dementia has been established, but further studies are needed to pinpoint exactly how it affects the brain. Scientists are trying to understand how hearing impairs cognitive function, and how it can be used to prevent the disease. An ongoing collaboration between the RNID and University of Manchester is focused on this question. Dr. Brian Allman hopes to identify and test changes in hearing that could be driving cognitive decline. He will then pursue tests to identify hearing problems in patients with dementia.
Hearing Strategies To Slow Down Dementia
There are several strategies that may help slow down the progression of dementia related to hearing loss:
- Use hearing aids: Especially if you are older, wearing hearing aids can help improve communication and social interaction, which can help preserve cognitive function.
- Stimulate the brain: Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, puzzles, and social activities, can help keep the brain active and delay the onset of dementia.
- Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity has been linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline.
- Maintain a healthy diet: Eating a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in saturated fats and sugar, can help protect against cognitive decline.
- Manage other risk factors: Managing other risk factors for dementia, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, can also help slow down the progression of the disease.
- Get a hearing test: Regular hearing test can detect hearing loss early and you can take the necessary steps to slow down the progression of the disease.
It’s important to note that these strategies are not guaranteed to slow down the progression of dementia, but they may help improve overall health and quality of life. It’s also important to consult with a healthcare professional for specific recommendations.