An important breakthrough has been made as researchers look for new ways to help prevent or delay the onset of dementia and cognitive decline. New research has confirmed a connection between hearing loss and dementia, a link which has long been suspected by the medical community.
These studies have shown that hearing loss is both a direct risk factor for dementia and also contributes to other dementia risk factors, such as social isolation and depression. As a direct risk factor, hearing loss causes more mental effort to be spent on hearing and understanding speech rather than on other cognitive functions like memory. This increased “cognitive load” is thought to change neural pathways in the brain, leading to cognitive decline.
Indirectly, hearing loss often leads to social isolation and depression, other proven risk factors for dementia. When we start struggling to hear it can be frustrating and embarrassing, leading many people to start disengaging from social groups and stop trying to connect with the world around them. Sadly, this lifestyle change means that there is less stimulation for our brains, leading to further cognitive decline.
A study published in the Lancet medical journal shows that hearing loss directly accounts for 25% of all modifiable risk factors for dementia, while the other potentially modifiable risk factors that hearing loss contributes to account for another 25% of all modifiable risk factors. The good news is that by addressing hearing loss we can hope to make significant gains in preventing or delaying the onset of dementia. The early signs of hearing loss include:
Signs of Possible Hearing Loss
- Difficulty hearing in noisy environments
- Other people notice the TV or radio is played too loudly
- Frequently ask people to repeat things
- Reduced engagement in social activities
- Reduced engagement in hobbies that were previously enjoyed
There is no such thing as a “mild” or small hearing loss without consequences. This means that all levels of hearing loss should be monitored and treated immediately.
Everyone’s hearing gets worse as we age. The earlier hearing loss is detected, the better chance we have at preventing cognitive decline. Anyone showing signs of hearing loss and all adults 50 and older should have their hearing screened annually so that their audiologist can identify any problems with their hearing and make appropriate recommendations for treatment. Research shows that management of hearing loss can reduce or slow down the onset of cognitive decline. Further information is available at MeridianHearing.com or by calling 1-800-649-0766.