Hearing Loss & Dementia

September 10, 2022 at 12:16 p.m.
Untreated hearing loss can be a factor in developing dementia
Untreated hearing loss can be a factor in developing dementia

Dementia is not a normal part of the aging process but is a complex condition with multiple causes.
Studies also show that there are many risk factors that can be mitigated with lifestyle choices such as healthy eating, exercise and staying engaged with life (both socially and by learning new things).

Another risk factor that can be treated is hearing loss.

Dr. Kathy McGowan, top audiologist with Beltone (a hearing aid company), sheds light on this topic to help spread awareness around the link between hearing loss and dementia.

“Studies have shown adults with hearing loss have a higher risk for cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” explains Dr. McGowan. “Hearing loss is the top preventable risk factor for dementia. Correcting hearing difficulties early on drastically reduces the risk but the risk can escalate as a person’s hearing loss worsens.”

What’s the connection?

  • Brain atrophy occurs from hearing loss when the “hearing” section of the brain becomes less active from lack of stimulation from everyday sounds which causes changes in brain structure and function. Atrophy occurs more quickly in people with hearing loss and could be the first link between hearing loss and cognitive decline.

  • An “overwhelmed” brain creates the second link between hearing loss and dementia as the brain must work overtime just to understand what people are saying. Straining to hear all the time depletes a person’s mental energy and steals brain power needed for other crucial functions like remembering, thinking, and acting. This can further set the stage for cognitive decline including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

  • Social isolation is a third link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s. A study by the National Council on Aging of 2,300 hearing impaired adults found that people with untreated hearing loss are more likely to experience loneliness, worry, depression, anxiety, and paranoia and are less likely to join social activities. When a person withdraws from life, their risk for dementia intensifies.In short, the less we stimulate our brains by interacting with other people, places, and things – and the less we use our brains to hear and listen – the more quickly our brains decline, putting us at greater risk for dementia.

Hearing aids may reduce your risk of cognitive decline

Numerous studies show hearing aids not only improve a person’s hearing, but they also help preserve their independence, mental abilities, emotional and physical health, and social lives. Early identification and treatment of a potential hearing loss help to minimize risks later in life.

And with the FDA’s new OTC hearing aid regulation, more people will soon have greater access to hearing aids, but it’s always best to seek the advice from a professional first to properly diagnosis the hearing loss type (or if it may just be earwax!). 

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