Is Hearing Loss Linked to Dementia?
Hearing loss and dementia become more common as we get older, but scientists don’t believe it’s just a coincidence.
Research scientists and doctors at the Johns Hopkins Medical University and the National Institute on Aging believe they have found a link between hearing loss and dementia.
What’s the Link?
Longitudinal studies of community-dwelling older adults have demonstrated that hearing impairment is independently associated with a 30-40% rate of accelerated cognitive decline (Lin et al., 2013) (on both auditory and non-auditory cognitive tests) and with a substantially increased risk of incident all-cause dementia (Gallacher et al., 2012; Lin, Metter, et al., 2011).
Compared to individuals with normal hearing, those individuals with a mild, moderate, and severe hearing impairment, respectively, had a 2, 3, and 5 times higher risk of dementia over following 10 plus years.
Although the exact reason for the link between the two conditions is still unknown, Dr. Frank Lin believe those with hearing loss may be more susceptible to dementia for 3 reasons:
- When you can’t hear as well, your brain has to work harder to process sound. As a result, it takes away resources that it could use otherwise.
- People with hearing loss tend to feel isolated, because it’s hard for them to engage in conversation and be social with others when they can’t hear. Social isolation or the feeling of loneliness has been linked to dementia. So hearing loss may cause mental decline to happen faster.
- If your ears can no longer pick up on as many sounds, the fewer signals your nerves have to send to the brain, as a result your brain atrophies.
Dr. Lin suggests by addressing hearing loss with hearing aids, devices, and treatments could help with hearing loss and improve cognitive function.
“A lot of people ignore hearing loss because it’s such a slow and insidious process as we age,” Lin says. “Even if people feel as if they are not affected, we’re showing that it may well be a more serious problem.”
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We’ve linked the studies below if you’re interested in learning more.