Did you know that September is World Alzheimer’s Month? Launched in 2012, this global campaign centerns awareness and advocacy for dementia. Dementia encompasses numerous medical conditions that affect brain health. This includes vascular, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Lewy Body dementia. The most common type is Alzheimer’s which impacts up to 70% of people who live with dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that over 6 million people have Alzheimer’s in the U.S. This is expected to exponentially increase, reaching 12.7 million people by 2050. There are no cures for dementia so significant research focuses on prevention and ways to protect brain health. Studies show that treating hearing loss is an effective way people can reduce their risk of experiencing dementia.
Impact of Hearing Loss on Brain Health
Research reveals a significant correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline. One major study that explores this link was published in 2019 in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School studied the impact of hearing loss on brain health by conducting a study that included 10,107 people. Participants were at least 62 years old and had their cognitive and hearing capacities evaluated over an 8-year period. Researchers found that hearing loss significantly increased the risk of cognitive decline.
Compared to participants without hearing loss, cognitive decline among those with impaired hearing 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
Not only were people with hearing loss significantly more likely to experience cognitive decline but the degree of impairment also further increased the risk. This supports extensive research that identifies hearing loss as a risk factor for cognitive decline and associated conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Recognizing Signs of Hearing loss
Hearing loss typically occurs gradually so it can remain unnoticed for quite a bit of time. This often contributes to a delay in treatment which not only worsens hearing but increases health risks like cognitive decline. Being able to recognize symptoms can help you identify any changes you may experience to your hearing health. Common symptoms include the following:
- Tinnitus: a buzzing or ringing like noise in one or both ears.
- Sounds are slurred or distorted.
- Difficulty hearing in environments with background noise.
- Increasing the volume on the TV, phone, or other electronic devices.
- Asking others to repeat something they said or to speak louder.
- Needing to move to a quieter space in order to hear.
- Lip reading to help identify individual words.
- Missing words or parts of a conversation.
- Experiencing miscommunication consistently.
- Responding with “huh” or “what”.
These symptoms can be mild to severe depending on the degree of hearing impairment present. This strains communication and makes it hard to participate in conversations. Because communication becomes difficult and requires more work and energy, people often avoid conversations as much as possible. Social withdrawal is another common symptom of hearing loss. Not only does this impact relationships and social life, but untreated hearing loss can also increase health risks like cognitive decline.
Benefits of Treating Hearing Loss
Prioritizing hearing health and seeking treatment offers countless benefits. This includes strengthening communication as well as improving overall health including brain health. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids which provide ample hearing support. Studies show that hearing aids provide numerous benefits including boosting brain health. This includes the following studies:
- 2020 Study Published in Science Daily: researchers at the University of Melbourne evaluate the cognitive capacities for nearly 100 participants before and after wearing hearing aids. Participants, ages 62-82, were assessed before hearing aid use and 18 months after wearing hearing aids. Researchers found that “97% of participants showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function (mental ability to plan, organize information and initiate tasks)”.
- 2018 Study Published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society: researchers evaluated the impact of wearing hearing aids on brain health for over 2,000 people by conducting memory tests every two years for 18 years. Researchers found that hearing aids used improved scores on memory tests, highlighting a strengthening of cognitive functions.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test. We look forward to helping you prioritize your hearing health during World Alzheimer’s Month!