Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

by | Apr 16, 2021 | Hearing Health, Hearing Loss, Patient Resources

When hearing is lost, the brain has to work harder to understand what is happening all around.

Studies show that people who experience mild-to-severe hearing loss are much as five times more likely to develop dementia than those who don’t have hearing loss. The figure is higher for men than women, and the worse a person’s ability to hear is, the higher chance they have of developing dementia as they continue to age.

This study has gone into further detail, breaking down the figures to show that every 10 decibels lost in hearing increases the risk of dementia by an additional 20%, and it is said that 36% of those who have dementia have it due to the hearing loss they experienced earlier in life.

One of the issues is that many individuals with hearing loss don’t even know they have it. Hearing loss often occurs gradually, and by the time it becomes a noticeable problem, it may well already have affected that person’s chances of developing dementia.

What is the connection between hearing loss and dementia?

Although the studies are still ongoing as to exactly what the connection between hearing loss and dementia actually is, there are plenty of theories. One is that hearing loss changes the brain in such a way that dementia can develop.

In other words, the brain shrinks because the section of the brain associated with hearing is no longer working, and therefore it atrophies, the tissue is lost or damaged, and when this tissue is linked to other areas of the brain – areas that are responsible for memory and cognitive function, for example – that can be damaged too.

Another idea is that the brain becomes overloaded. When hearing is lost, the brain has to work harder to understand what is happening all around. When you are straining all the time just to decipher words and other sounds in your day-to-day life, your brain is going to get tired.

It’s going to be overwhelmed and overloaded. The problem is that this means other functions not related to hearing can become depleted as well because your brain is literally working at a lower capacity.

Social isolation

As well as physical change within the brain as a potential link between dementia and hearing loss, another consideration has to be the social isolation that being hard of hearing or deaf can bring about. When your hearing loss is untreated, you are much more likely to stay at home by yourself rather than venture into the wider world because if you can’t hear properly, it’s hard to function.

Holding conversations, listening to instructions and even understanding an area or road’s safety can all be problematic when you are experiencing hearing loss. For some, it’s easier to stay at home where they feel safe and secure.

Unfortunately, social isolation is one of the risk factors for developing dementia. Someone who doesn’t go out doesn’t interact with other people, doesn’t join in with activities or local events, and will have an increased risk of dementia as they get older. This is due to a lack of stimulation. When the brain is unstimulated, it can shrink, atrophy, and otherwise stop working at its full level – dementia is often the result.

Hearing aids and preventing dementia

So far, we’ve talked about untreated hearing loss having a direct effect on the likelihood of someone developing dementia as they get older. The good news is that when hearing loss is treated and hearing aids are worn, the risk of dementia lessens again.

Hearing aids amplify the sounds around you, ensuring that you can hear more easily. Thus, you won’t have to strain your brain so much, and you’ll be using it at the right levels for it to stay healthy. On top of this, wearing hearing aids means that you will feel much more confident about leaving the house and trying new things – you’ll be more capable of interacting with other people and socializing more.

It’s crucial to visit an audiologist regularly. If you think you might be experiencing hearing loss, it’s best to make an appointment to see an expert sooner rather than later; the earlier your hearing loss can be treated, the healthier your brain can stay.

Make an appointment today

It’s clear that there’s a link between hearing loss and dementia, but it can be made better; it can be stopped. Contact Allison Audiology & Hearing Aid Center, P.C., at 979-292-8501 f or 713-827-1767 for Houston to find out more and to ensure your next steps are positive ones.

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Jana Emola-Austin, Au.D.

Raised in Bryan, Texas, Jana completed her undergraduate studies at Texas A&M University before attending the University of North Texas with an ambition to earn her master’s degree in speech pathology. However, a required audiology class soon set her on a new career path. She became enthralled with the subject and says audiology resonated with her because it involved everything she enjoys – helping people to improve their lives and relationships with others and using technology to make positive impacts. Following this revelation, Jana went on to graduate with her Doctor of Audiology degree. After many years of assisting patients in the clinic on a daily basis, Jana’s main responsibilities at Allison Audiology have shifted to a management role. She now works behind the scenes focusing on administrative, management, and marketing responsibilities.