DEMENTIA AND UNTREATED HEARING LOSS
Dementia or hearing loss?
The gatherings we have during the holidays allow us to touch base with our family members. It is a time of togetherness where at times we might notice our parents aging and perhaps some changes in their cognition or memory. But we should not assume it is a memory issue because it is possible they just didn’t hear the whole conversation.
Many studies have been done that are showing a link between Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss. This is not new information but may not be common knowledge for our increasing population of seniors. So why is there a link between dementia? Is there anything we can do to stop cognitive decline as we age?
Frank Lin, and otolaryngologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has done more than one study that has shown a link between cognitive decline and hearing loss. In his 2011 study his results showed that seniors with hearing loss were significantly more likely to develop dementia than their counterparts who had normal hearing. The reason for the link is unknown but researchers have suggested that dementia and hearing loss might have a common underlying pathology or that dementia may be exacerbated for seniors with a hearing loss because it takes more effort for that individual to hear and understand conversations, putting more stress on the brain.
It also has long been known that a severe hearing loss can cause depression, anxiety, paranoia and isolation. All of these factors together can have a negative effect on our overall health. People with a hearing loss not only will have more cognitive decline but they will also have a tendency to be hospitalized more often because of other health issues and tend to fall more than their peers with normal hearing. Falls occur more often when an individual has a hearing loss because they may not have a good awareness of their environment making it easier to fall or trip. Not to mention that gait and balance are already cognitively demanding and by adding the disability of the hearing loss can over tax the brain.
Another study at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 2014 has found that the shrinkage of the brain as we age is accelerated when an individual has a hearing loss. This information might lead most people to believe it is important to treat a hearing loss. The majority of the time the best treatment for a hearing loss is the use of hearing instruments.
Hearing aids have long helped improve the quality of life for many people by allowing them to participate in conversations and help them hear the sounds of their environment. Now with the realization that our hearing can affect our overall health many hearing aid manufacturers are trying to help alleviate the burden that a hearing loss can put on our brains. Oticon is a hearing aid manufacturer that has been around for years and in the past year has been focusing their attention on BrainHearing technology. This technology not only [improves speech understanding but reduced the effort demanded to understand speech. The reduction in effort means cognitive resources are freed up and can be used for other cognitive tasks, such as remember conversations.] * From the Oticon OPN White Paper 2016.
No matter what the cause, scientists are trying to figure out a way to slow the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s or possibly even prevent it. Could it be as simple as a hearing aid to put less stress on our brains and therefore preventing cognitive decline? With this information I would conclude that if you or a loved one suspects you are having problems with your memory that you have your hearing tested. An untreated hearing loss is obviously not good for your physical or mental health.
Written by Dr. Amy Swain, Audiologist