Are Hearing Loss and Dementia Connected?Published Monday, Jul. 1, 2013, 3:15 pm
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Do you have hearing difficulties? If yes, do you sometimes find that it seems like work just to understand what the people near you are saying? This is a sensation that happens even to people wearing hearing aids, because in order for them to perform well you need to have them tuned and adjusted properly, and then become accustomed to using them.
Unfortunately, the repercussions of this phenomenon may not be limited to loss of hearing function; it might also be related to declines in cognitive abilities. In newly released studies, scientists have found that hearing loss drastically raises your chances of contracting Alzheimer’s and dementia.
One such research study was conducted by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine on 639 participants ages 36 to 90 16-year period. The researchers found that at the end of the research project, 58 of the participants (9%) had developed dementia, and 37 (5.8 percent) had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, the greater their degree of hearing impairment, the higher was the likelihood of developing dementia; for every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the likelihood of dementia increased 20 percent.
In a similar research study, evaluating 1,984 participants, researchers observed a similar association between dementia and hearing loss, but they also found that the hearing-impaired experienced noticeable declines in their cognitive capabilities. The hearing-impaired participants developed reduced thinking capacity and memory loss 40% faster than participants with normal hearing. In both studies, an even more dismaying discovery was that this relationship was not lessened by using hearing aids.
Researchers have offered several hypotheses to explain the connection between loss of hearing and loss of cognitive capabilities. One explanation is based on the question at the start of this article, and has been given the name cognitive overload. Some think that if you are hearing-impaired, your brain tires itself just trying to hear that it has a diminished capacity to understand what is being said. The resulting lack of understanding may cause social isolation, a factor that has been demonstrated in other studies to lead to dementia. Another theory is that neither dementia nor hearing loss cause the other, but that they’re each related to an as-yet-undiscovered disease mechanism – possibly vascular, possibly genetic, possibly environmental – that causes both.
Despite the fact that these study outcomes are a little depressing, there is hope to be found in them. For those of us who wear hearing aids, these results serve as a reminder to see our hearing specialists on a regular basis to keep the aids perfectly fitted and programmed, so that we aren’t continually straining to hear. If you do not have to work so hard to hear, you have greater cognitive power to understand what is being said, and remember it. And, if it turns out that loss of hearing is an early indicator of dementia, diagnosing the hearing loss early may allow for early intervention to delay the development.
More online at www.VirginiaHearingAids.com.