Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia

Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia

Robert Weissman, Au.D., B.C.A., CCC-AUncategorized

Robert Weissman, Au.D., B.C.A., CCC-A

Dementia refers to a range of medical conditions that are characterized by declining cognitive abilities: memory, thinking, reasoning, decision making etc. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease which accounts for 60-80% of cases. Others types of dementia include: vascular, Lewy body, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease. There are no cures for dementia so identifying potential risk factors is critical to understanding more about the disease and ways to possibly delay or reduce one’s risk.  

Increasing research focuses on the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Findings reveal that hearing loss can contribute to cognitive decline. Though this link is not necessarily causal, we know that these two conditions are correlated.  

The Scope of Dementia and Hearing Loss 

Both of these medical conditions are growing and impacting millions of people. Hearing loss impacts nearly 48 million people in the U.S. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

  • 1 in 8 people have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears 
  • 25% for adults ages 65-74 have hearing loss 
  • 50% for adults ages 75 and older have hearing loss 

The pervasiveness of hearing loss makes it the third most common chronic health condition that older adults experience.

Additionally, nearly 6 million people have dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association:

  • 1 in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s specifically 

Both health conditions are projected to increase and impact more people. Experts estimate that the number of people with Alzheimer’s will more than double, reaching 14 million by 2050. 

Link Between Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

Growing research shows a significant correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline. In a 2019 study, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, investigated this correlation. They analyzed data collected by a health survey conducted over 8 years. It included 10,107 participants who were at least 62 years old that self-reported their cognitive and hearing health. The findings show that cognitive decline 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 

Similar to other studies, these findings reveal two important things: 

  1. People with hearing loss were more likely to experience cognitive decline
  2. The more severe the hearing loss, the increased chance the person will experience cognitive decline 

Researchers suggest a few theories that can help make sense of the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline: 

  • Hearing loss could impact the specific parts of the brain that are responsible for how we hear and this kind of restructuring can contribute to cognitive decline 
  • With untreated hearing loss, people often exert tremendous amounts of energy to hear and make sense of what people are saying. This can consume much of one’s mental capacity and could trigger cognitive overload 
  • Social withdrawal is a major impact of hearing loss. People can often retreat from social gatherings and activities to avoid having conversations (because communication is difficult). This kind of isolation can contribute to loneliness, depression, anxiety etc. and take a toll on one’s mental health. 

Research to further understand this link is ongoing and needed. We do know that untreated hearing loss can worsen overall health which is why it is so critical to seek treatment!

Treating Hearing Loss

Untreated hearing loss not only can contribute to the development of cognitive decline, but can also increase the risk of: accidental injury, unemployment, and other medical conditions. Early detection of hearing loss can significantly help the transition to improved health and quality of life. 

Addressing hearing loss is relatively simple and begins with scheduling an appointment with a hearing healthcare expert to have your hearing tested. Hearing tests are noninvasive, painless, and determine any hearing impairment as well as the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you may be experiencing. 

Hearing loss is most commonly treated with hearing aids which are electronic devices designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound; increasing one’s ability to hear. Research shows that hearing aids can improve cognitive function, reducing the risk of dementia. Treating hearing loss can drastically enhance quality of life!