Wooden brain puzzle representing mental decline due to hearing loss.

What’s the link between hearing loss and dementia? Medical science has connected the dots between brain health and hearing loss. Your risk of getting dementia is increased with even mild hearing loss, as it turns out.

These two seemingly unrelated health disorders may have a pathological connection. So, how does loss of hearing put you in danger of dementia and how can a hearing test help fight it?

Dementia, what is it?

Dementia is a condition that reduces memory ability, clear thinking, and socialization skills, as reported by the Mayo Clinic. Alzheimer’s is a common type of cognitive decline most people think of when they hear the word dementia. About five million people in the US are impacted by this progressive form of dementia. Exactly how hearing health impacts the danger of dementia is finally well grasped by scientists.

How hearing works

The ear mechanisms are extremely intricate and each one is important in relation to good hearing. Waves of sound go inside the ear canal and are boosted as they move toward the inner ear. Electrical impulses are transmitted to the brain for decoding by tiny little hairs in the inner ear that shake in response to waves of sound.

As time passes, many people develop a progressive decline in their ability to hear because of years of damage to these fragile hair cells. Comprehension of sound becomes much harder because of the decrease of electrical impulses to the brain.

This progressive hearing loss is sometimes considered a normal and inconsequential part of the aging process, but research indicates that’s not accurate. The brain attempts to decode any messages sent by the ear even if they are garbled or unclear. The ears can become strained and the brain exhausted from the extra effort to hear and this can eventually result in a higher risk of developing cognitive decline.

Loss of hearing is a risk factor for lots of diseases that result in:

  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Inability to master new tasks
  • Impaired memory
  • Reduction in alertness
  • Weak overall health

And the more extreme your hearing loss the greater your risk of dementia. An individual with just minor hearing loss has twice the risk. Hearing loss that is more significant will raise the risk by three times and extremely severe neglected hearing loss can put you at up to a five times higher risk. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University tracked the cognitive skills of more than 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. Memory and cognitive issues are 24 percent more likely in people who have hearing loss significant enough to disrupt conversation, according to this research.

Why is a hearing exam worthwhile?

Hearing loss impacts the overall health and that would most likely surprise many people. Most individuals don’t even know they have hearing loss because it develops so slowly. The human brain is good at adjusting as hearing declines, so it is less obvious.

Scheduling routine comprehensive exams gives you and your hearing specialist the ability to effectively assess hearing health and observe any decline as it occurs.

Reducing the risk with hearing aids

Scientists presently believe that the link between cognitive decline and hearing loss is largely based on the brain stress that hearing loss produces. Based on that one fact, you may conclude that hearing aids decrease that risk. A hearing assistance device boosts sound while filtering out background noise that impedes your hearing and relieves the stress on your brain. With a hearing aid, the brain will not work as hard to understand the audio messages it’s getting.

There is no rule that says individuals with normal hearing won’t develop dementia. What science thinks is that hearing loss speeds up the decline in the brain, increasing the risk of cognitive problems. The key to decreasing that risk is regular hearing exams to diagnose and manage gradual hearing loss before it can have an affect on brain health.

Call us today to make an appointment for a hearing exam if you’re worried that you might be dealing with hearing loss.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.