Dementia & Hearing Loss
Dementia in its most common form, Alzheimer’s Disease, is on the rise in the US. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, between 2000 and 2017 deaths from heart disease have decreased 9% while deaths from Alzheimer's have increased 145%. This has helped the condition to become the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
The first signs of dementia are difficulties with memory recall. It first attacks the part of the brain that is responsible for retaining information. After that, it eventually travels to other parts of the brain, which leads to changes in behaviour and difficulties remembering important dates and times. Worryingly, there is no cure yet to be found.
As rates of the disease creep up worldwide, many are talking about how to best combat it. Aside from studies linking it to high blood pressure, more studies are being released which suggest that hearing loss might be a big influence. This might initially seem like a strange connection to make, but looking more closely at these studies might change your mind.
Dementia and Hearing Loss
Dr. Frank Lin, an otologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, recently ran a study that tracked overall cognitive abilities of almost 2000 adults with a mean age of 77, for 6 years. The ones who had significant hearing loss at the start of the 6-year period were 24% likelier to see an adverse effect on their cognitive abilities. The conclusion of this study was that hearing loss seemed to speed up cognitive decline, which is one of the conditions most commonly associated with causing dementia.
Another study found benefits to using hearing aids to aid cognitive development. Isabelle Mosnier of Assistance Publique-Hopitaux de Paris in France wrote a paper which investigated a group of older adults aged 65-85 who had hearing problems. Once they were given hearing aids, 80% improved their cognition scores after a year of wearing them.
Although we can’t yet be totally certain from a few studies that hearing loss has a direct link to dementia, some are already suggesting we do something about it. One of these people is P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University School of Medicine and co-author of The Alzheimer's Action Plan. This is what he had to say:
"The improvement in cognition (for the previously cited study) was huge — about double that seen with any of the current [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] FDA drugs for treating Alzheimer's."
He mentions that not many doctors make the same connection, when they should, something he calls a ‘big missed opportunity’. He ended by calling for doctors to make treating cognition with hearing aids a bigger priority.
How we can help prevent dementia?
Based on these studies suggesting a link between hearing loss and dementia, here is some general advice on how to reduce your risk.
Maintain your links to friends and family
People who suffer from hearing loss usually shy away from social occasions because they find it tough to understand people in noisy environments like cafes and bars. This makes it more enticing to stay at home alone instead. If the individual decides not to make it to social events, this can put a strain on connections to friends and family. Being socially isolated has long been linked to cognitive decline and dementia.
Hearing treatment can give those with hearing loss the confidence to meet their friends and family in unfamiliar environments. Many of our own hearing aids come with features to help with understanding in noisy environments, giving you that extra boost you need to stay in the conversation.
Current numbers suggest only 20% of those who need hearing aids actually own them. This is probably because on average, people wait up to 7 years before seeking help with their ears. Until future studies confirm or deny the link between hearing loss and dementia, it’s best err on the side of caution. Get your hearing checked regularly and seek appropriate treatment if you have a hearing loss. Your brain might just thank you further down the line.
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