Seeking Hearing Loss Treatment Could Help Prevent or Delay Dementia

In Brain Health, Mental Health by Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A

Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A
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When you think of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, one of the first things that might come to mind is that there is no known cure. Indeed, despite their best efforts and increased research funding, there is no known cure for dementia at this time. The FDA did approve the new Alzheimer’s medication Aduhelm, and doctors are optimistic that it might be able to slow the pace of cognitive decline. 

While experts continue to seek a cure for these conditions, another important approach from the perspective of public health is to decrease risk factors. Specialists have identified 12 important risk factors that lead to higher rates of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia at the level of the entire population. Although decreasing these risk factors is not a way to certainly prevent dementia at the individual level, it is a way to have less likelihood of developing these conditions, to delay the onset of dementia, and to slow the pace of cognitive decline once it begins. Among these 12 risk factors, hearing loss is one of the important predictors of higher rates of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. 

In fact, those who have hearing loss between the ages of 65 and 74 have roughly double the likelihood of developing dementia, and those who are age 75 and older have even higher risk compared with their counterparts without hearing loss. With these statistics in mind, it is important to take steps to prevent hearing loss as a way to lower your likelihood of dementia, as well. 

Preventing Hearing Loss

Hearing loss prevention takes many forms. When possible, the best steps you can take are to wear hearing protection or avoid noisy environments altogether. Those who have to work in loud factories, industrial sites, or auto mechanic shops should wear the protective equipment required by law, whether that is a pair of disposable foam earplugs or more advanced protection such as noise-canceling earmuffs. The risks of noise-induced hearing loss are not limited to these obviously loud environments, however. 

Many restaurants, bars, music clubs, and sporting arenas can emit noise levels that exceed the safe range for hearing loss, as well. Particularly in small businesses, it is possible that your employer is not mandating protection in the same way that larger organizations have become accustomed to doing, so you should take hearing protection into your own hands. Another key to preventing hearing loss is to limit your exposure to recreational or leisure noise. Whereas you might not be able to avoid working in a loud environment, you can limit your exposure to leisure noise by reducing the volume of your headphones or earbuds and limiting the time you spend using them. If you attend a loud event such as a concert or sports game, you should wear proper hearing protection whenever possible. These simple lifestyle behaviors make it possible to prevent hearing loss with the possible side effect of reducing your risk of dementia, as well. 

Preventing Comorbidities

Several of the other items on the list of 12 risk factors for dementia are also related to hearing loss. For instance, those who have hearing loss are more likely to experience depression and anxiety than those who do not. Hearing loss has been correlated with a lack of physical activity, higher incidence of hypertension and diabetes, as well as experiencing social isolation. Each of these factors forms a web of effects that are difficult to disentangle from one another. 

Although it is important to attempt to reduce all 12 of these risk factors in order to lower the likelihood of dementia, preventing and treating hearing loss can be an additional way to set yourself up for success in the other domains. If you believe that you have already developed hearing loss, don’t think of yourself as a lost cause! Initial research is demonstrating that treatment for hearing loss wipes out many of the effects leading to a greater risk of dementia. 

Those who have hearing loss should take this exploratory research as an additional prompt to get a diagnostic hearing test from one of our hearing health professionals and to learn about the options that are available for treating hearing loss through hearing aids or other approaches, as well.