Over 6 million Americans are impacted by Alzheimer’s. Raising awareness about this disease is important, even for younger generations. For Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, cognitive issues like Alzheimer’s and dementia are always concerning. Those of a certain age are most likely worried about or know someone with some form of dementia.
Hearing Loss and Worsened Cognitive Health
Research that was published by the JAMA Internal Medicine indicates that individuals who do not receive treatment are at a 50 percent higher risk of developing dementia.
Hearing loss - and how it’s managed - can impact the way our minds function as we get older.
It is still uncertain as to why untreated hearing loss raises the risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s, but there are speculations.
1. Social withdrawal can be the result of hearing loss
The knowledge of how social isolation and feelings of loneliness increase the chance of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia isn’t news to experts in the field.
But did you know that social isolation and feelings of loneliness can get worse when you have untreated hearing loss? The struggle and inability to hear, or even getting the response “Nevermind” from people who are asked to repeat themselves, can lead to withdrawing from circumstances where you need to hear to participate.
2. Hearing loss overloads the brain
When you struggle to hear, the brain has to put extra effort into receiving and understanding what you are listening to. This takes away memory and thinking energy. Scientists call this the “cognitive load theory”.
In other words, a healthy brain starts with a limited amount of fuel. When hearing loss gets worse, you use more “fuel” to comprehend what you are hearing. As a result, you have less fuel to power you through simple tasks like the ability to remember things and make decisions.
3. The brain shrinks quicker when you have hearing loss
Hearing loss can lead to an advanced state of brain atrophy. As we age, the brain becomes smaller. Johns Hopkins researchers discovered every year, people with poor hearing lost more brain tissue than those with healthy hearing. This is most likely caused by an atrophied brain that did not receive enough stimulation.
Can Receiving Treatment for Hearing Loss Help keep the Brain Healthy?
There has not been any research that proves this theory, but two studies strongly suggest it can help.
In 2015, a 25-year study revealed that individuals who had self-reported hearing loss and were not regular hearing aid users had an increase in cognitive decline. Those with hearing loss and who did wear hearing aids regularly didn’t have any additional cognitive decline compared to their peers who had normal hearing abilities.
A study from 2017 - updated in 2020 - was just as hopeful. The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care found that treating hearing loss from mid-life is one of the 12 things you can do that can help prevent, or slow down the onset of, dementia.
Researchers have also indicated that treating hearing loss could prevent nearly 9 percent of the 47 million cases of dementia across the globe.
What is the most Effective Treatment for Hearing Loss?
The aforementioned studies on the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline, are the kinds of awareness that we hope to inform readers about. It should encourage anyone who begins to notice any slight or significant amount of hearing loss to seek help immediately.
Wearing hearing aids is one of the most effective treatments for hearing loss. If you or a loved one notice any signs of hearing loss, please contact us at Northumberland Hearing Center to schedule an appointment.