Research Links Hearing Loss to Dementia

People often ask why untreated hearing loss matters. They wonder why someone should wear hearing aids all day if they can “get by” without them or why they need them if they don’t socialize.

The answers are not always simple and resistance to use of hearing aids is common. Sometimes it takes a son or daughter to get their parent assessed for hearing decline and to use helps that will not only enable them to stay engaged socially but can help stem memory loss as well.

In recent years, medical journals and trending research are addressing questions about hearing loss and hearing aids with increasing frequency – and studies are finding a correlation between hearing loss and dementia (cognitive decline).
In 2011, the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology published an article directly linking untreated hearing loss to higher incidents of dementia, Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline. This article was very well received as it seemed to be something new to the community; however, audiologists have known for years about auditory deprivation and the reason behind the increase in dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Auditory deprivation occurs when hearing nerves are deprived of sound, which leads to their eventual weakening. The weakening of the nerves to the brain slowly causes a decline in functioning in the hearing centres of the brain. When those parts of the brain are underutilized a person struggles not only to hear speech, but to understand it. In other words “you use it or you lose it.”

In practice, the relationship between hearing loss and dementia should come as no surprise. After all, you can’t remember what someone said if you didn’t hear them say it. Several symptoms are common to both untreated hearing loss and dementia. These symptoms include depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation and problems talking and understanding what is being said.
In addition, people with either untreated hearing loss may or conditions like dementia can have inappropriate responses to social cues, lower scores on tests of mental function, attitudes of denial, defensiveness, or negativity, and increased distrust of others’ motives, even those of family and friends.

The most common cause of auditory deprivation — a person who chooses not to wear hearing aids if they have hearing loss — can be prevented simply by wearing the aids instead of leaving them in a drawer. This simple practice will help to keep the nerves and hearing centres of the brain active and properly functioning and helps reduce the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline.

If you believe you have hearing loss, or haven’t been correctly treated for your hearing loss, feel free to come and see one of our trusted audiologists. If you have hearing aids, you’ll do yourself a huge favour by wearing them regularly and consistently even if you think you’re “just fine.”