Hearing Loss and Dementia

In recent years, many research studies have found correlations between untreated hearing loss and an increased risk for developing dementia.

According to one study published in 2011 by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, people with severe or profound hearing loss may be about five times as likely than their peers without hearing loss to develop dementia over the course of many years.

According to another study by the Lancet Commissions, approximately 47 million people worldwide were living with dementia in 2015, leading to an estimated cost of $818 billion. Nearly 85 percent of that figure is related to non-medical costs, such as those affecting family and society. Experts estimate the number of cases of individuals living with dementia will increase to 66 million by 2030 and 131 million by 2050. The report was presented at the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

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What is Dementia?

Dementia is a broad term that covers many symptoms of cognitive decline. Most often, dementia is defined as a decrease in memory or overall cognitive skills that reduce a person’s ability to complete daily activities. Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is the most commonly diagnosed type of dementia.

It is estimated that a person develops Alzheimer’s disease every 65 seconds in the United States. Dementia is a progressive disorder, meaning it typically starts very mildly and becomes more severe over time. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia; however, various treatment options do exist that can help prolong a person’s quality of life and mental ability when living with Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia.

Dementia is a debilitating condition affecting individuals as well as their family members. People with dementia are twice as likely to be hospitalized than their cognitively healthy peers, according to a study by University of Washington researchers.

Dementia and Hearing Loss

Cognitive decline is not scientifically proven to have a direct connection to hearing loss; however, many studies have found that those with untreated hearing loss tend to experience a higher risk for developing dementia than their peers with average hearing.

One of the most notable studies on the connection between hearing loss and dementia came out of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 2011. To complete this study, Dr. Frank Lin and his research team used data from the Biltmore Longitudinal Study on Aging (BLSA) on 639 men and women.

These men and women were frequently assessed by BLSA in both cognitive abilities as well as hearing over the course of 18 years. Even after controlling for other potentially contributing factors such as age, sex, socioeconomic status, race and smoking habits – people with hearing loss were more likely to have experienced cognitive decline over the course of the study than those with normal hearing. Those with just mild hearing loss were about twice as likely to have developed dementia and those with the most severe or profound hearing losses were about five times as likely to have experienced dementia than their peers with normal hearing.

Dementia Prevention
While there is no cure for dementia, it may be preventable. The Lancet Commissions report suggests as many as one third of all dementia cases may be delayed or prevented by eliminating some of the risk factors. Specifically, dementia may be reduced with active treatment of hypertension in middle and old age, increasing childhood education, regular exercise and social engagement, reducing smoking, and addressing depression, diabetes, and obesity. Treating hearing loss is also an important step to take in preventing dementia.
Manage Your Hearing Loss
Managing hearing loss is an important part of an emotionally, physically and mentally healthy lifestyle. In addition to dementia, untreated hearing loss has been linked to increased risk for depression and social isolation, and could be an indicator of other medical conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.
Protecting Your Hearing
The National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates more than 40 million Americans have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), the most preventable type of hearing loss. Reduce the risk of developing NIHL by turning down the volume on personal electronic devices and wearing hearing protection whenever you know you’ll be exposed to noisy environments. Make sure to schedule regular hearing check-ups. It is never too early to start! If you are diagnosed with hearing loss, treatment with hearing aids could bring significant benefits to your overall health and well-being.