More to Treating Hearing Loss than Better Hearing: The Link Between Untreated Hearing Loss and Dementia

More to Treating Hearing Loss than Better Hearing

There is a growing body of evidence supporting the claim that treating hearing loss not only improves hearing but also improves quality of life. Various types of hearing loss can be treated using hearing aids, cochlear implants, assistive listening devices, and/or medical intervention. By treating hearing loss, not only are there improvements in the aided ability to understand speech with ease, but there are also demonstrable improvements in that person’s emotional, mental, and social aspects of life.

Earlier this year, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical University and the National Institute on Aging conducted a study that found a strong link between untreated hearing loss and dementia. Dementia is generally defined as the decrease in brain function that comes naturally with advanced age, and prematurely in patients with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia greatly decreases quality of life, ability to remain independent and participate actively in social situations. This twelve year study concluded that people with hearing loss, especially those in the elderly population, are at higher risk for developing dementia. As the severity of hearing loss increases, so does the risk for developing cognitive dysfunction.

The research has led to the theory that hearing loss causes one to strain cognitively to hear and understand conversation. Over time, this straining can overwhelm the brain, which can somehow cause these people to be more at risk of developing or exhibiting signs of dementia. Years of over-stimulation can result in a greater incidence of social isolation, anxiety, and depression. However, rehabilitation of hearing loss with hearing aids or other means of amplification can, based on this research, theoretically reduce this risk.

Even mild degrees of hearing loss left untreated can result in negative consequences. Having to ask others to repeat themselves can be stressful and embarrassing for the hearing impaired and can be considered an inconvenience and annoyance to the person speaking. To avoid this anxiety and frustration, the person with hearing loss may stop attending family gatherings and social events that they used to enjoy, ultimately leading to suppressed anger, depression and social isolation.

These recent studies support the importance of addressing hearing loss as soon as it is suspected. Utilizing appropriate devices to improve hearing can indirectly slow potential development of dementia by decreasing the negative social implications that can be associated with hearing loss. When a person receives the help they need to hear better, they may feel more comfortable participating in and contributing to family gatherings, social events, and discussion, allowing the individual the ability to once again enjoy these activities.

Taking steps towards improving hearing, can create great strides towards a better quality of life and may decrease the risk of developing dementia in the hearing impaired. The quality and scope of hearing devices available has advanced greatly, with solutions for most all types and ranges of hearing losses and lifestyles.

To take the first step in addressing the negative emotional and physical impact that hearing loss can have on daily life and the potential risk of its resulting dementia, contact a professional audiologist and schedule a hearing consultation. Audiologists and ear, nose and throat physicians are best qualified to assess hearing loss and its possible causes, offering the most suitable options to improve hearing.

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