Wooden brain puzzle representing mental decline due to hearing loss.

What’s the connection between hearing loss and dementia? Medical science has connected the dots between brain health and hearing loss. Your risk of getting dementia is higher with even mild hearing loss, as it turns out.

Researchers believe that there might be a pathological connection between these two seemingly unrelated health issues. So, how does loss of hearing put you at risk for dementia and how can a hearing test help fight it?

What is dementia?

Dementia is a condition that reduces memory ability, thinking, and socialization skills, as reported by the Mayo Clinic. Individuals tend to think of Alzheimer’s disease when they hear dementia most likely because it is a prevalent form. Alzheimer’s means progressive dementia that affects around five million people in the U.S. Today, medical science has a comprehensive understanding of how ear health increases the risk of dementias like Alzheimer’s disease.

How hearing works

The ear components are extremely complex and each one is important when it comes to good hearing. As waves of sound vibration move towards the inner ear, they get amplified. Inside the labyrinth of the inner ear, little hair cells vibrate in response to the sound waves to send electrical signals that the brain decodes.

Over the years these tiny hairs can become irreversibly damaged from exposure to loud noise. Comprehension of sound becomes much more difficult due to the reduction of electrical impulses to the brain.

This progressive hearing loss is sometimes considered a normal and insignificant part of the aging process, but research shows that’s not the case. Whether the impulses are unclear and garbled, the brain will attempt to decipher them anyway. That effort puts strain on the ear, making the individual struggling to hear more susceptible to developing cognitive decline.

Here are several disease risk factors that have hearing loss in common:

  • Overall diminished health
  • Memory impairment
  • Exhaustion
  • Depression
  • Reduction in alertness
  • Irritability
  • Trouble learning new skills

And the more significant your hearing loss the greater your risk of dementia. A person with just mild impairment has double the risk. More advanced hearing loss means three times the danger and a person with severe, neglected loss of hearing has up to five times the odds of developing cognitive decline. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University monitored the cognitive skills of more than 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. Cognitive and memory problems are 24 percent more likely in individuals who have hearing loss severe enough to disrupt conversation, according to this research.

Why a hearing exam matters

Hearing loss affects the overall health and that would probably surprise many people. Most people don’t even recognize they have hearing loss because it progresses so slowly. The human brain is good at adapting as hearing declines, so it’s less obvious.

Scheduling regular comprehensive assessments gives you and your hearing specialist the ability to effectively evaluate hearing health and observe any decline as it takes place.

Using hearing aids to decrease the risk

The current hypothesis is that strain on the brain from hearing loss plays a major role in cognitive decline and different types of dementia. Based on that one fact, you may conclude that hearing aids reduce that risk. The stress on your brain will be decreased by using a hearing aid to filter out undesirable background noise while enhancing sounds you want to hear. With a hearing aid, the brain won’t work so hard to comprehend the sounds it’s receiving.

People who have normal hearing can still possibly develop dementia. What science thinks is that hearing loss quickens the decline in the brain, increasing the risk of cognitive problems. Having regular hearing tests to detect and manage hearing loss before it gets too extreme is key to reducing that risk.

If you’re concerned that you may be dealing with hearing loss, give us a call today to schedule your hearing assessment.

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