Hearing Loss and Dementia
Hearing Loss and Dementia
While many people assume that the only consequence to untreated hearing loss is persistent or total loss of hearing, the truth is that there are many more we should be aware of. If hearing loss is left untreated, it can lead to significant damage to the brain, decrease social engagement, and cause serious health issues. One of the more serious health issues to be aware of is the link between hearing loss and dementia.
Hearing Loss Changes Our Brain Structure
Studies show that when left unaddressed, hearing loss can actually be the cause of change in structure of the brain over time. Studies from John Hopkins Medicine showed that people who experienced hearing loss had accelerated rates of brain atrophy. Furthermore, within their research they found that certain regions of the brain, specifically the areas that are devoted to processing sounds and speech, decreased in alarming rates throughout the period of time it was studied.
How We Can Slow Down the Process of Cognitive Decline
According to Oticon, one the world’s leading hearing aid companies, “the single most important thing we can do to maintain our brains as we age is to stay mentally engaged, through an active social life with friends, family and business associates.”
The best way to do this is by ensuring that our hearing is at its best in order to participate fully in these activities.
While the aging process carries the decline of our cognitive with no real cure, we can certainly do our best to slow it down. Research from a study performed over the span of 25 years showed that people with hearing loss who wear hearing aids and stay socially active, experience cognitive decline at the same rate as people without hearing loss.
Hearing Loss Sends Our Cognitive into Over Load
New studies are showing that humans who experience hearing loss are also associated with a reorganization of the brain. While this isn’t something we want to experience, it has brought evidence of correlation between hearing loss and dementia, thus further down the line could have long term implications for hearing loss and intervention.
While doctors used to believe that the brain remained static throughout one’s life time, they are now learning, through studies, that this isn’t the case. In research regarding hearing loss, evidence has shown that the section of the brain devoted to hearing loss can actually become reorganized and reassign that section to different functions.
One of the most interesting things they found within this reorganization process is that the brain will start to experience a phenomenon called cross-modal cortical reorganization, which means that the brain will start to rewire itself to rely on other senses more such as sight and touch.
This reorganization results in a negative impact on a person’s ability to speak, the ability to understand speech, and weakens the brain. While your brain is looking for a solution to fix this problem, it kicks into the higher-level thinking part of the brain in attempt to correct the deficiency. Serious cognitive issues arise throughout this process as your brain is trying to self-correct the lack of hearing. This process shows signs of correlation between hearing loss and dementia, even in the very early stages of experiences a loss of hearing.
Hearing Loss and Dementia
Studies show that midlife hearing loss is one of the biggest risk factors for dementia. While researchers can’t exactly pinpoint why people who experience hearing loss are more at risk for rapid cognitive decline, they have come up with several theories.
- Social isolation is a risk factor for dementia. Most people who experience hearing loss tend to socially isolate themselves out of frustration, sadness, or a number of other reasons. When people distance themselves from cognitively stimulating environments, they’re putting themselves at a higher risk for dementia.
- Hearing loss produces long-term change in the brain. As we mentioned before, when we experience hearing loss, our brains are kicking into high gear trying to overcompensate and fix the problem. It’s taking more energy to decode what the sounds are and how to interpret them, thus furthering the reorganization of the brain’s structure.
While these are serious things to look out for, there are certainly things we can put into place to reduce the risk of experiencing either. The number one thing you can do to reduce the risk of developing dementia is to address your hearing loss as soon as possible. The sooner you can intervene, the better! Even if you don’t think you are experiencing hearing loss, if you’re over the age of 50, it’s important to schedule annual screenings to assess your hearing health.
While treating hearing loss won’t guarantee a cure, it will certainly boost your quality of life by being able to be more present and fully experience the world and community around you.
Be sure to give us a call today to schedule your screening. We’d love to be the ones to take your hand and find the best solution that fits your lifestyle.