While it may be easy to wait to address hearing issues until they are significantly impacting your daily life, new research is showing that early treatment of hearing loss may help support memory health. One of the hottest topics in the world of hearing loss is the relationship between dementia and hearing loss. Although a causal link has not been determined, several studies have shown that there is a relationship between hearing loss and dementia. One study by, Frank Lin et al 2011, looked at 639 patients over several years. This study showed that compared to normal hearing peers, the dementia risk for a patient with a mild hearing loss doubled, a moderate hearing loss tripled the dementia risk, and dementia was five times more likely for a patient with a severe hearing loss. These numbers are staggering when you consider that the average person waits 7 years to seek help for a hearing loss that they have noticed.
There are several theories as to why hearing loss may be associated with dementia. Many revolve around the idea that both dementia and hearing loss increase cognitive load, or the brain’s ability to manage its work. When the brain is overloaded it becomes more difficult to complete the tasks like creating memories, remembering routines, and understanding the environment.
Hearing loss has also been associated with an increase in social isolation. Even with a mild hearing loss many people find community environments to be more tasking and then avoid going to these places. When people stop living life like they used to, communication errors due to hearing loss can sometimes be mistaken for memory issues. There have been cases where a patient has been suspected to have memory issues, when in fact they are struggling to communicate due to a hearing loss. This is one more reason to seek out hearing health care early and to adopt hearing treatment like hearing aids early on to ensure you are able to successfully communicate. Not only do hearing aids help manage a hearing loss, they also ensure that you continue to live life to its fullest by helping you not withdraw from your social environment. Social isolation may play a role in dementia but you can avoid it by ensuring you have a communication plan and appropriate hearing technology.
There is no guarantee that hearing aids will prevent dementia and memory issues. However, with the current research in the field, there is good evidence to support that the use of hearing aids, routine hearing testing, and instating a communication plan may prevent or reduce cognitive decline. There is no risk to monitoring hearing, educating yourself about hearing health care, and wearing hearing aids, but waiting to treat a hearing loss may lose valuable time in preventing and reducing cognitive decline. If you suspect you have a hearing loss, seek out an audiologist to help you support you in your journey. If you aren’t sure where to start or how to help as a partner or a caregiver, you can find courses at my website, www.audiologyconsults.com. There I cover topics such as navigating hearing health care, creating a communication plan, hearing aid technology, the process of obtaining hearing aids, what to expect from a hearing test, understanding your hearing test results, and more.