The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia

May 12, 2023

The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia

If you are like most people, you want to do everything possible to decrease your chances of getting dementia. As the global population ages and also lives longer, the rate of dementia is increasing. This translates into a person somewhere in the world developing dementia every three seconds!

It’s true that nobody wants to get dementia, but are you aware that there are things you can do to decrease your chances of developing this terrible illness.  In your efforts to stave off dementia you should consider doing things such as quitting smoking, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy body weight, maintaining your social relationships, managing any existing health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and staying mentally sharp by learning new things. But you might not be aware of another factor that can decrease your chances of developing dementia. That factor is hearing loss.

Hearing loss is quite common and affects people in every country. Nearly twenty percent of the earth’s population suffers from hearing loss, 1.5 billion people. Of these, 430 million have a hearing loss that is disabling. Hearing loss also becomes more common as you age. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), age is the greatest predictor of who has hearing loss, with the largest number of people who have loss in the 60 to 69 age group. Also, men are almost twice as likely to have hearing loss as women.

So, what does hearing loss have to do with dementia? A January 2023 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Associationfound a strong association between hearing loss and the development of dementia, with dementia occurring least often in those people with normal hearing (6%), increasing in those with mild hearing loss (9%), and most often in those with moderate to severe hearing loss (17%). That is a really big increase in risk.

What is the link between hearing loss and dementia? Researchers speculate this has to do with brain stimulation. Studies have shown that the more one’s brain is stimulated, the less likely are the chances of developing cognitive decline and dementia. With hearing loss, the brain stimulation via the auditory pathway can be severely decreased.

Plus, people with hearing loss are much less likely to participate in social activities, as they may be embarrassed, or they just don’t enjoy themselves when they are not able to understand the conversations going on around them. Social interactions are a major factor in the prevention of dementia, so the person with hearing loss has a double blow here: decreased auditory brain stimulation and the decline of social interactions.

Fortunately, there is something you can do about this risk factor for the development of dementia. If you believe you have hearing loss, then get your hearing tested by an audiologist. This can identify even mild loss and you can discuss with your audiologist if hearing aids are necessary.

If you already have hearing loss, there is plenty you can do, including making sure your ear canals are free of wax buildup. Use caution here, as using an object in your ear canal to try to remove wax can put you at risk for puncturing your eardrum. Consult with your health care provider for advice on how to remove a wax build up.

If you know you have hearing loss but you don’t wear hearing aids, then now is the time to get them -see an audiologist.

It goes without saying that if you already have hearing aids, wear them, if they are broken, get them fixed, and if they aren’t working as effectively as they used to, have your hearing retested to see if you need adjustments.

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