Illini Hearing - Champaign and Mahomet, IL

Wooden brain puzzle representing mental decline due to hearing loss.

What’s the link between hearing loss and dementia? Brain health and hearing loss have a link which medical science is starting to understand. It was discovered that even mild neglected hearing impairment raises your risk of developing cognitive decline.

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

What is dementia?

Dementia is a condition that decreases memory ability, thinking, and socialization skills, as reported by the Mayo Clinic. People tend to think of Alzheimer’s disease when they hear dementia most likely because it is a prevalent form. Around 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 understood by scientists.

How hearing works

The ear mechanisms are quite intricate and each one matters when it comes to good hearing. As waves of sound vibration move towards the inner ear, they’re amplified. Inside the maze of the inner ear, little hair cells shake in response to the sound waves to transmit electrical signals that the brain translates.

Over time these little hairs can become permanently damaged from exposure to loud noise. The outcome is a decrease in the electrical impulses to the brain that makes it difficult to understand sound.

Research suggests that this slow loss of hearing isn’t just an irrelevant part of aging. Whether the impulses are unclear and jumbled, the brain will attempt to decode them anyway. That effort puts stress on the ear, making the individual struggling to hear more susceptible to developing cognitive decline.

Here are several disease risk factors that have hearing loss in common:

  • Irritability
  • Impaired memory
  • Depression
  • Reduction in alertness
  • Weak overall health
  • Trouble learning new skills
  • Exhaustion

The likelihood of developing cognitive decline can increase depending on the degree of your hearing loss, too. Even slight hearing loss can double the danger of cognitive decline. More significant hearing loss means three times the risk and a person with extreme, neglected loss of hearing has up to five times the odds of developing cognitive decline. Research by Johns Hopkins University tracked the cognitive skills of more than 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. Cognitive and memory issues are 24 percent more likely in individuals who have hearing loss severe enough to disrupt conversation, according to this research.

Why a hearing exam matters

Hearing loss impacts the overall health and that would probably surprise many people. Most individuals don’t even recognize they have hearing loss because it progresses so gradually. As hearing declines, the human brain adjusts gradually so it makes it less obvious.

Scheduling regular thorough exams gives you and your hearing specialist the ability to effectively evaluate hearing health and track any decline as it occurs.

Minimizing the danger with hearing aids

The current theory is that strain on the brain from hearing loss plays a big role in cognitive decline and different types of dementia. So hearing aids should be able to reduce the risk, based on that fact. The strain on your brain will be reduced by using a hearing aid to filter out unwanted background noise while boosting sounds you want to hear. With a hearing aid, the brain won’t work as hard to understand the audio messages it’s receiving.

People who have normal hearing can still possibly get dementia. What science believes is that hearing loss accelerates the decline in the brain, raising the chances of cognitive problems. Getting routine hearing exams to identify and manage hearing loss before it gets too extreme is key to decreasing that risk.

If you’re worried that you may be dealing with hearing loss, give us a call today to schedule your hearing evaluation.

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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.
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