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How Does Dementia Have a Strong Link With Hearing Loss?

By Dr. Tiffany Ahlberg, Au.D., CCC-A.

You probably have heard that dementia has a strong link with hearing loss.  But do you know why?

So if I have hearing loss will I start developing dementia?  Not necessarily, buy you are at a higher risk than the general population.

Ok, let me specify: Untreated hearing loss can increase a person’s risk to a faster cognitive decline.

Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging reported in February, 2001 that they believe seniors are more likely to develop dementia if they have a hearing loss than those who maintain their hearing. Frank Lin, MD, the lead researcher, was quoted saying, “A lot of people ignore hearing loss because it’s such a slow and insidious process as we age.  Even if people feel as if they are not affected, we’re showing that it may well be a more serious problem.”

In September, 2011, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania reported on a study they conducted which shows the declines in hearing ability may accelerate gray matter atrophy in auditory areas of the brain and increase the listening effort necessary for older adults to successfully comprehend speech.  The lead researcher and neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Jonathan Peels, MD, was quoted in an article stating, “As hearing ability declines with age, interventions such as hearing aids should be considered not only to improve hearing but to preserve the brain.  People hear  differently, and those with even moderate hearing loss may have to work harder to understand complex sentences.”

In January, 2013 Dr. Lin and his team of researchers at Johns Hopkins reported that they also found a more rapid decline in cognitive abilities in subjects who have a hearing loss, when compared to their peers with normal hearing.  Those with 25dB hearing loss was equal to cognitive age difference of 7 years.

Additionally, Dr. Lin’s Baltimore Longitudinal Study found that individuals with hearing loss tended to have a higher risk of developing dementia than those without hearing loss.  They also reported finding that the greater the degree of loss the higher the chances of developing dementia.

1.89 X’s more likely with mild hearing loss.
3 X’s more likely with moderate hearing loss.
5 X’s more likely with severe hearing loss.

Many people are surprised to learn that there is a connection between hearing loss and dementia.  Research has demonstrated that people with hearing loss are at a higher risk for developing dementia that are those of normal hearing.  Scientists believe that being unable to hear will deprives the brain of an essential source of stimulation, which contributes to the brain’s decline.  Additionally, people with hearing loss tend to become socially isolated, and the loss of social support also damages the brain.

Those who receive treatment for their hearing loss significantly reduce their risk of dementia.  Research has shown that those who use hearing aids are considerably less likely to develop dementia than are those whose hearing loss goes untreated.  Also, people who use hearing aids score significantly better on various measures of social, emotional, ans psychological well-being than do those with untreated hearing loss.

Additionally, hearing loss can sometimes be mistaken for dementia, because most of the exam tests for dementia is given verbally.  In some cases, a patient may test positive for dementia when they are cognitively healthy but just cannot hear the examiner correctly.  Ideally, the hearing should be evaluated before testing for dementia.

Therefore, if there are signs of dementia, or it you are struggling to hear what other are saying, you should have your hearing tested.

If you, or a loved one, is in need of our care and services, please send them our way. 

Scheduling is easy! (423) 641-0956.

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