Dementia & minor hearing loss; what’s the link?

We already know that there is a link between mild to severe hearing loss and dementia. Hearing loss is one of the most commonly reported disorders in our aging population and it affects more than 75% of those aged over 70. The risk of developing dementia increases significantly with the degree of hearing loss. But new research is showing that the links between hearing loss and dementia may start much younger and at much less severe levels of hearing loss.

In simple terms, you are twice as likely to develop dementia if you have mild hearing loss; three times more likely if you have moderate hearing loss, and five times more likely with severe hearing loss. So, should you be concerned if you only have very minor hearing loss? 

How do we classify hearing loss?

Traditionally, researchers classify mild hearing loss as beginning at 25dB. That’s the level of a whisper. And if your level of hearing loss is less than that arbitrary 25dB level then the experts describe your hearing as normal. The problem is it’s not that simple. Hearing loss doesn’t just start at 25dB anymore than age-related hearing loss or cognitive decline begins the day you turn 65 or 70 or 75. 

In the past, research has not paid much attention to the risks of cognitive decline in  cases of minor hearing loss. As Justin S. Golub, a hearing specialist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital says, “It has been assumed that cognitive impairment wouldn’t begin until people passed this threshold. But no one actually looked at whether this was true.”

Now a recent study from the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons indicates that the risks of cognitive decline may start much earlier, much younger and at much lower levels of hearing loss that we thought. 

Any hearing loss puts you at risk

This study evaluated more than 6,000 people with an average age of 59. The results showed a significant loss of cognitive ability with every 10dB of hearing loss. This held true right across the hearing spectrum. In fact, those people who were only just starting to display hearing loss (less than 10dB) showed the largest drop in cognitive decline. These shocking findings indicate that any level of hearing loss puts you at risk of cognitive decline and developing dementia.

This is a concern because 80% of people with hearing loss will not wear hearing aids. Many of these people have the attitude, ‘I can hear; why do I need hearing aids?’ And, your hearing loss might be almost imperceptible but as the leading researcher in this study indicates, “hearing loss is not benign. It has been linked to social isolation, depression, cognitive decline, and dementia. Hearing loss should be treated. This study suggests the earlier, the better.”

Denial only hurts you

One of the leading reasons people refuse to get their hearing checked or treated is simply denial. Some people believe that their hearing loss isn’t severe enough to warrant doing anything about it. You might be one of those people who believe everyone else is mumbling when you have to ask people to repeat themselves. And the problem with denial is it takes, on average, 7 to 10 years before people with hearing loss finally decide to do something about it. In that time your brain is potentially missing out on an enormous quantity of input and information that helps to keep it alert and active.

And that loss of mental activity along with the increased risk of dementia isn’t the only reason you might regret not getting your hearing tested. The reality is that hearing loss is linked with physical and emotional wellbeing as well. The links between hearing loss and increased sick days and accidents at work along with loss of income are undeniable. 

Hearing loss is clearly linked with increased depression, social isolation, withdrawal, frustration and anger. Treating your hearing loss will help restore your levels of happiness and social interaction too.

When should I take action?

Basically, if you think you might have hearing loss then you need to take action and get your hearing tested by a hearing professional. Look out for the following warning signs:

  • You frequently ask people to repeat themselves 
  • You turn up the volume more and more on devices
  • Ringing sounds or whistling (tinnitus) is present
  • Background noise makes conversation increasingly difficult

Certain types of viral illnesses may also cause hearing loss as does working in a noisy environment day after day. The reality is that getting treatment for your hearing loss can transform your life. Studies from the Lancet Commission show that hearing aids can prevent as many as 40% of dementia cases.

 And although hearing aids can’t cure your hearing loss they can boost speech and memory. And remember that young people are increasingly at risk of hearing loss due to the habit of using in-ear personal devices. In fact, more than 50% of adolescents suffer from tinnitus. There may even be a link between the hearing loss epidemic in young people and the rapidly growing number of Early Onset Dementia cases.

So, if you have hearing loss the time to take action is now. Any delay may increase your chances of cognitive decline.

Hearing aids can make the difference

It’s simple, hearing loss and dementia are closely linked. Hearing aids can help you hear, think and function better now, and in the future. Don’t play with your precious hearing or your mental state. If you think hearing loss might be an issue for you or someone you love then talk to your House of Hearing professional today.

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