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Recent research reveals that hearing loss can increase the risk of developing dementia by 91%. This finding is part of extensive research that highlights a correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline, the key characteristic of conditions like dementia.
Dementia refers to a group of medical conditions that impair essential cognitive functions like decision making, memory, communication, and completing everyday tasks. The number of people living with dementia is projected to triple – from 50 million to 150 million people globally by 2050. Dementia can impact personality, behavior, relationships, and ability to navigate everyday life independently and safely. Significant research focuses on modifiable risk factors that can contribute to preventing dementia. Substantial research highlights that hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia and that protecting hearing health can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia
There is substantial research that shows a link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. A number of studies highlight that hearing loss can significantly increase the risk of developing cognitive decline and associated conditions like dementia. A major study that investigates these relationships was conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford. This study included over 82,000 people, ages 60 and older. Participants had their hearing abilities categorized as: normal, insufficient, or poor speech-in-noise hearing. Researchers reevaluated the hearing and cognitive capacities of these participants 11 years later and found that 1,285 participants developed dementia. Comparing participants with dementia and those without, researchers found that:
- People with insufficient hearing experienced a 61% increased risk of developing dementia compared to those with normal hearing.
- People with poor speech-in-noise hearing experienced a 91% increased risk of developing dementia compared to those with normal hearing.
This data shows that people with hearing categorized as insufficient and poor were much more likely to develop dementia. These findings support extensive research that identifies hearing loss as a risk factor for cognitive decline.
Impact of Hearing Loss on Brain Health
Hearing loss can impact brain health in significant ways that contribute to cognitive decline. Hearing not only happens in the heart but also in the brain. There are specific portions of the brain that are responsible for processing speech and sound. Hearing loss results in the brain receiving less information to process which can lead to the following:
- Brain atrophy: areas of the brain can shrink due to inactivity. This can lead to a loss of neurons and restructure neural networks which can contribute to cognitive decline.
- Cognitive overload: the brain is forced to work harder and use more energy to search for and process sound signals. Other parts of the brain can also intervene to compensate for hearing loss. This overworks the brain, causing cognitive overload and contributing to cognitive decline.
- Social withdrawal: to cope with symptoms, it is common for people to withdraw socially. This involves spending less time with loved ones, participating less in activities, and skipping out on social gatherings. This results in less stimulation and engagement for the brain.
These effects deteriorate brain health and increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. It is important to prioritize your hearing health and intervene if you experience hearing loss symptoms.
Hearing Aids Strengthen Brain Health
Fortunately, there are effective ways hearing loss is treated. The most common treatment is hearing aids which are electronic devices that provide ample hearing support. Hearing aids alleviate symptoms and increase one’s capacity to hear. Studies show that hearing aids strengthen cognitive functions and improve brain health. This includes the following two studies:
- University of Melbourne Study: researchers evaluated nearly 100 people (ages 62-82) before wearing hearing aids and 18 months after. They found that:
- “97% of participants showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function (mental ability to plan, organize information and initiate tasks)”.
- Study Published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society: researchers conducted memory tests on 2,000 people (ages 50 and older) and found that wearing hearing aids improved test scores. Researchers concluded that hearing aids can improve cognitive functions and brain health.
You can prioritize your hearing health by taking one simple step: schedule an appointment for a hearing test. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation.