Nearly 6 million people in the U.S. experience dementia, a figure that is estimated to rapidly increase. Dementia refers to cognitive decline that is characterized by memory loss, reduced capacity to make decisions, solve complex problems etc. which makes navigating daily life independently challenging. There are different forms of dementia including Lewy Body, Parkinson’s, and vascular. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all cases. Because dementia is irreversible and typically worsens, there is substantial research focused on identifying and treating risk factors. One of these risk factors is hearing loss which if addressed and treated, could prevent or delay the development of dementia.
Hearing loss is the third most common health condition that older adults experience today. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders,
- Nearly 1 in 8 people (ages 12 and older) have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears
- 25% of adults ages 65-74 have hearing loss
- 50% of adults 75 and older have hearing loss
These statistics highlight that hearing loss is a pervasive medical condition. It can be caused by various factors including existing medical conditions, environmental exposure to loud noise, and genetic history. These factors can damage components of the ear which are integral to the process of hearing. Most commonly, the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged which prevents them from effectively functioning. These thousands of hair cells help translate soundwaves into electrical signals that are sent to the brain to process which is how we make sense of what we hear. This makes it challenging to hear and understand what you hear which has multifaceted effects on communication, relationships, job performance etc. Hearing loss also increases the risk of different conditions including personal injuries and cognitive decline.
Hearing Loss & Dementia
Hearing loss and dementia are two conditions that disproportionately impact older adults:
- 80% of people who have Alzheimer’s are 75 and older
- 50% of adults aged 75 and older have disabling hearing loss
The relationship and overlap of these conditions is the focus of numerous studies. One of the most significant studies was conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Published in 2019, this study involved over 10,000 participants, ages 62 and older, who self-reported both their hearing and cognitive ability over a span of 8 years.
The findings show that people with hearing loss were more likely to develop cognitive decline. Specifically, cognitive decline was:
- 30% higher among people with mild hearing loss
- 42% higher among people with moderate hearing loss
- 54% higher among people with severe hearing loss
These significant statistics show that cognitive decline was not only more likely for people with hearing loss but in some cases, twice as likely. This indicates a strong correlation between the two conditions. Though the exact nature of this relationship remains unclear, researchers suggest that hearing loss renders parts of the brain (responsible for the auditory system) less active. This inactiveness of brain cells, muscles etc. impacts cognitive function and ultimately contributes to decline.
Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss
Addressing hearing loss is relatively simple. The first step is to schedule an appointment with a hearing healthcare specialist to have your hearing assessed. Hearing tests involve a simple process that measures your hearing ability in both ears. This involves responding to various sounds played at different frequencies and pitches which you are guided through by the hearing specialist (commonly an audiologist). Hearing exams establish any impairment, the type, and degree (mild to profound) of hearing impairment you may be experiencing.
Establishing your hearing needs is critical in order to ensure that those needs are met in all the environments you move through. Hearing loss is commonly treated by hearing aids which are small, electronic devices that are designed to collect, amplify, and process sound. This significantly increases one’s ability to hear which of course, has numerous benefits including effective communication, enhanced relationships, and reducing your risk of various health issues including dementia.
Treating hearing loss can drastically improve the quality and longevity of your life! Contact us today to learn more.