Untreated Hearing Loss Tied to Dementia Risk

September is World Alzheimer’s Month and dementia is one of the most common forms of Alzheimer’s. Studies all over the world have tracked a link between untreated hearing loss and a tendency to get dementia. Contact Hearing Health today for a hearing test and help preserve your lifestyle now – and for the future.

Alzheimer’s not normal part of aging

Although many assume Alzheimer’s and dementia as normal aspects of aging, they are not. Hearing loss may be – by not dementia. Alzheimer’s is a brain condition that affects the part of the brain that controls memory and thought. Being forgetful is not the same as having Alzheimer’s. Early stage indicators of Alzheimer’s are more severe than just forgetting where you put your keys. It’s more like standing in front of the microwave and having no idea what it is for or how to operate it.

Some early warning indicators include: getting lost in familiar places, trouble handling and paying bills, repeating the same questions over and over in a short span of time, taking longer to complete everyday mundane tasks, displaying poor judgement, losing things or placing them in odd places, confusion over time and events and mood and personality changes. The personality changes would include paranoia and distrust of family members as well as caregivers.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, the ability to carry on a conversation or respond to environmental stimuli decreases markedly. If you see a loved one starting to struggle – make sure it is not due to untreated hearing loss!

Hearing loss and cognitive abilities

Hearing loss is a fact of life for 48 million Americans and hearing loss increases as you get older. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, untreated hearing loss diminishes cognitive abilities which leads to dementia.
Think of the brain as a use it or lose it sort of organ. Social interaction, utilizing your brain outside the home for driving, shopping, hiking and – just walking are all great brain exercises.

Untreated hearing loss causes your brain to struggle with deciphering sounds and conversations. It puts what scientists call a “cognitive load” on certain areas of the brain and not others. If you are using too much of your brain for the same thing – other cognitive abilities are diminished.

Researchers suggest untreated hearing loss actually does affect the brain structure. Brain imaging studies of seniors with untreated hearing loss shows less gray matter in some parts of the brain. The conclusion by those who studied the data was that the brain didn’t change, but certain brain cells that were no longer being used because of lack of stimulation had started to shrink.

One study from 2013 tracked cognitive abilities, that is – concentration, memory and planning – in about 2,000 adults with an average age of 77. After six years, those who began the study with untreated hearing loss defined as severe enough to interfere with normal conversation were 24% more likely than those with normal hearing to have a decrease in cognitive abilities. Researchers noted untreated hearing loss seemed to speed up cognitive decline especially as research subjects got older.

Untreated hearing loss and isolation

Most people with untreated hearing loss tend to start isolating themselves from outside activities and society. It is embarrassing to not be able to hear a conversation and respond correctly and it is also embarrassing to not be able to hear the wait staff discuss the daily special at a restaurant.

Rather than risk a social faux pas, those with untreated hearing loss withdraw from their friends and social circles. This cuts out a valuable piece of social interaction that keeps your cognitive abilities sharp. It leads to depression. Lack of socialization as well as depression have long been recognized as factors that can lead to cognitive decline and dementia.

Positive results with hearing aids

A French study used subjects 65 to 85 with profound deafness in one ear. Each received an implant to improve the hearing in that ear and after one year – 86% of the test subjects showed significant improvement in cognitive abilities.
Other studies noted positive effects and improvement in individuals, even if they were already suffering from some dementia, if their hearing loss was treated.

There have been amazing advances in hearing aids – both inside and outside the ear – and the professional staff at Hearing Health can keep you moving on your path to a healthy lifestyle with a hearing test and treatment solutions. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s yet, but your hearing loss can be treated, and you can keep a lifestyle that keeps your cognitive abilities sharp.