There are very clear links between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Hearing loss also increases your likelihood of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s. Scientists are still not sure about how this connection works but a large number of studies support this conclusion.
Cognitive decline is where a person’s memory and thinking skills deteriorate. A certain degree of brain shrinkage appears to be a normal part of the aging process but there are a range of conditions and lifestyle choices that may contribute to cognitive decline including:
- Smoking or drug use
- Family history of dementia
- Stress, depression, and other mental health problems
- Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke
- Sleep related problems
But a 2014 John Hopkins study found that the rate of brain matter reduction is much faster when there is hearing loss. Not only is there a greater risk of developing dementia associated with hearing loss but this risk increases along with the severity of hearing loss. And it appears that this cognitive decline starts earlier too in people with hearing loss.
Fortunately, restoring your hearing through the use of hearing aids seems to reverse these changes provided you start using hearing devices early enough. So, does all cognitive decline lead to dementia? What do we know about the links between hearing loss and dementia? Can hearing aids prevent dementia? And when should I get hearing aids? In this article you can find the answers to these important questions.
Does all cognitive decline lead to dementia?
No, not all cognitive decline leads to dementia. In part, some people don’t live long enough after cognitive decline begins for symptoms of dementia to appear. And sometimes the reduction in brain matter takes place in parts of the brain where the decline is not so obvious such as areas associated with motor function for example rather than memory.
What are the links between hearing loss and dementia?
Aging is the number one cause of hearing loss in Canada. Well over half a million Canadians are living with dementia with that number set to double in the next 15 years. The two conditions appear to be connected. But just what are the links between hearing loss and dementia? Does one cause the other or is it simply a coincidental development that occurs as a result of the aging process?
A recent study indicates the risk of developing dementia as; a two-fold increase with mild hearing loss; a three-fold increase in risk with moderate hearing loss, and a five-fold increase in risk with severe hearing loss.
At this stage, science doesn’t know the exact link between hearing loss and cognitive decline but researchers are exploring four possible links:
- Hearing loss often leads to social isolation–a well-documented risk factor for cognitive decline
- Hearing loss requires the brain to use other processing centres such as short term memory and thinking to process sound
- Atrophy of the parts of the brain associated with hearing due to lack of stimulation
- Specific damage to the brain causes both hearing loss and reduced brain function—they both share the same cause
The brain has an extraordinary ability to adapt and change but it needs stimulation to maintain good health and active function. If the brain doesn’t receive the stimulation of social interaction or the brain has to work overtime just to understand a conversation then the hearing parts of the brain may start to fade away through lack of use.
But be reassured, if you suffer from hearing loss it does not mean you will develop dementia. As one of the world’s leading experts in this field, Frank Lin, says, “I have a 92-year-old grandmother who’s had a moderately severe hearing loss for many years now. She’s sharp as a tack. I was talking to her about my research and she looks at me and says, ‘Are you telling me I’m definitely going to get dementia?’
“I said, ‘Not by any means.’ “
However, the research is clear; healthy hearing does seem to feed healthy cognitive function. Part of the reason may lie in the fact that the brain structures used in processing sound and speech are also responsible for aspects of memory and sensory processing. It is these same centres that show the most obvious signs of atrophy in conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
Can hearing aids prevent dementia?
Preliminary studies indicate that hearing aids can help prevent dementia but researchers need to do more work to fill in all the gaps in our knowledge.
Hearing aids definitely cannot cure dementia but restoring your hearing can certainly help provide the stimulation your brain needs to remain healthy. A recent study in France demonstrated the enormous benefits improved hearing can bring for brain health. In this study, at least 80% of profoundly deaf participants experienced a significant improvement in cognitive scores when fitted with a cochlear implant.
When should I get hearing aids?
Certainly, timing seems to be critical. In other words, if you have hearing loss get it treated before you develop any cognitive decline. Frank Lin, otologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore puts it simply;
“If you want to address hearing loss well, you want to do it sooner rather than later. If hearing loss is potentially contributing to these differences we’re seeing on MRI, you want to treat it before these brain structural changes take place.”
The realty is properly fitted hearing aids can improve communication for 90% of people with hearing loss. Wearing hearing aids can transform your life so don’t delay. Call House of Hearing today and enjoy better hearing and a healthier brain.