Hearing Loss & Dementia
Hearing Loss & Dementia
The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language” (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/types-dementia/what-dementia). Currently, the most commonly diagnosed type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.
Presently, another case of dementia is diagnosed about every 2-3 seconds and dementia and its devastating effects are on the rise. According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that about 47 million people are currently living with dementia worldwide. This number is set to increase to 75 million by 2030 and is expected to almost triple by 2050 (http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/dementia/en/). This shocking number may make us feel a bit queasy, however, there are many steps one can take to decrease their risk of developing dementia. Some of the most commonly practiced means to reduce dementia risk are to regularly exercise, eat healthy foods, quit smoking, and decrease alcohol intake.
Did you know that getting your hearing assessed is also a step that may help reduce risk of developing dementia? Take the time to educate yourself on the relationship between dementia and hearing loss.
How are hearing loss and dementia connected?
Unfortunately, many studies have found that people with hearing loss are much more likely to develop dementia in their lifetime than their peers without hearing loss. There has been a growing body of research from all over the world that continues to indicate that hearing loss is likely a risk factor for dementia. We’ve compiled a timeline of some of the most recent findings here.
Dr. Frank Lin, PhD and his team at John Hopkins University publishes one of the first groundbreaking studies connecting hearing loss with cognitive decline. In this study, 639 subjects were followed and interviewed every 2 years. The study started in 1994 and ended in 2008. The study found that people who had hearing loss in the beginning of the study were much more likely to have dementia by the end. In fact, those with severe hearing loss were five times more likely to have developed hearing loss than their peers with normal hearing. (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_and_dementia_linked_in_study).
Dr. Lin introduces a follow-up study on his findings in 2011. This time, the study followed 1,984 subjects for six years. The study concluded that individuals with hearing loss were 24% more likely to have developed dementia over the course of the study. The research also studied the rate at which cognitive decline occurred. The results found those with hearing loss suffered cognitive decline about 30-40% – or about 3.2 years – quicker than their peers without hearing loss. (http://hlaa-la.org/better-hearing/the-link-between-hearing-loss-and-dementia/).
A group of esteemed researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 11 studies from across the globe that were previously published in PubMed, Embase or Web of Science regarding hearing loss and cognitive decline. The analysis concluded that hearing impairment is indeed correlated with a higher risk of cognitive decline in older adults. This study helped to include hearing loss as an official risk factor for dementia. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5806170/).
What can I do?
There are two very important steps you can take today that may help reduce your risk of dementia influenced by hearing loss.
It is imperative that you protect your hearing to prevent further loss or damage. If you work in a noisy environment (meaning you need to shout to hear someone standing a few feet away from you), ask about the company policy on hearing protection. You have a legal right to work in a safe hearing zone. If you like to frequent loud venues such as bars, sporting events, or concerts, it is important to wear hearing protection. Lastly, it is essential to monitor the volume on your personal listening device. If you hold your earbuds or headphones at arms length away and you can still hear your music or phone conversation– you are listening at a potentially dangerous volume.
As the correlation between hearing loss and dementia gains traction throughout the medical world, new studies about hearing aids potentially mitigating the negative effects of hearing loss on cognitive ability have also surfaced. A study published in the Journal of American Geriatric Society followed participants over the age of fifty from 1996-2016. Every two years, researchers used a combination of informal interview and a formal cognitive memory test to monitor participants. It was found that for all 2,040 self-reported hearing aid users – cognitive decline occurred at a much slower rate than for people with hearing loss who did not use hearing aids. Miraculously, the slower rate of cognitive decline began immediately after the participants began using hearing aids. (http://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearingnewswatch/2018/hearing-aids-slow-cognitive-decline-study/).