Some people believe hearing loss is a condition that doesn’t significantly affect our overall health.
However, a growing number of studies suggest that untreated hearing loss can contribute to cognitive decline and increase the risk of developing dementia. With nearly 50% of people aged 75 or older experiencing hearing loss, this is a major health concern.
Manatee Ear Center in Bradenton, Florida urges those with hearing difficulty to get a hearing aid evaluation to see if hearing aids may help.
Frank Lin, an epidemiologist and otologist at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, is a leading researcher on the link between hearing loss and brain health. His studies have found that individuals with moderate to severe hearing loss have five times the risk of developing dementia than those with normal hearing levels. Even mild hearing loss doubles one’s risk of dementia and cognitive decline.
Lin did a large study in 2013 documenting almost 2,000 adults with an average age of 77 for six years. At the end of that time, people who started with severe hearing loss were nearly one-quarter more likely to have diminished cognitive ability than the participants with normal hearing. Scientists surmise that hearing impairment speeds up the development of dementia and cognitive decline.
Another study of Lin’s from 2011 tracked the brain health of 639 individuals who were sharp cognitively at the beginning of the study. Researchers followed the participants for 12 to 18 years, discovering that increasingly worse levels of hearing impairment were translated to greater dementia risks – individuals with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely to have it.
One rationale for the link between hearing loss and dementia involves “cognitive load,” referring to the strain placed on the brain from all the effort needed to concentrate on hearing. Over time, this takes resources away from the cognitive ability to remember things. Research also shows that hearing impairment can actually shrink parts of the brain due to a lack of stimulation.
The good news is that the use of hearing aids can help give those brain cells the aural stimulation they need, giving your brain a break from straining so much to hear sounds. In addition to preserving brain health, the devices can help a wearer’s social life, independence, overall quality of life and emotional health.