The Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia

an older man cupping a hand to his ear

Studies have shown adults with untreated hearing loss are more likely to experience Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other types of cognitive disorders. While the link between hearing loss and dementia has only been recently established, the evidence is compelling. Individuals with hearing loss ranked moderate to severe have a much higher risk of developing dementia, being five times more likely to experience the condition compared to those with no hearing loss.

This risk is increased for men. Men experiencing hearing loss have a 69% greater chance of developing dementia than those experiencing no hearing loss or impairment. There is good news within the research that suggests the implementation and regular use of hearing aids can mitigate this risk. 

Why is hearing loss and dementia linked? 

Hearing loss can affect your brain’s function over time. As the brain changes, adapting to hearing loss, the risk of dementia increases. There are two main changes that your brain can make due to hearing loss that will increase your risk of dementia. 

Brain shrinkage

Brain atrophy, or brain shrinkage, is when the brain loses neuron cells. These cells are crucial for creating neural pathways or connections within the brain. When the section of the brain that deals with hearing becomes inactive, the cells are lost. This then results in a loss of brain tissue, which in turn changes your brain’s structure. 

Brain atrophy cannot be reversed, and the resulting change increases the chance of further shrinkage as a result of dementia. The evidence clearly shows that the brains of people experiencing hearing loss, with no mitigation, will shrink quicker than those with no hearing loss. 

Overloading the brain

If a person is experiencing hearing loss then their brain will often work hard to compensate for the loss of sensory input. People with hearing loss may spend a lot of their day piecing together snippets of conversation and trying to figure out exactly what is being communicated. This requires the brain to work extra hard for long stretches, depleting mental energy every day.

If your brain is overwhelmed then you can begin to struggle with other basic functions like memory recall and undertaking complicated activities that require thought and coordination such as driving. Depleting your brain’s ability to undertake everyday tasks has also been linked to the onset of dementia and other cognitive conditions. 

Becoming isolated

Another factor that links hearing loss to dementia, is social isolation. People with untreated hearing loss can experience loneliness, anxiety and depression as a result of their condition. They are less likely to join in with social activities and casual meetups. When opportunities for social interaction decreases, the risk of dementia increases as we are not providing our brains with adequate social stimulation. 

What can I do to reduce the risk of developing dementia?

Hearing loss can be mitigated through the use of hearing aids. Book an appointment with a hearing instrument specialist (HIS) who can test for hearing loss and advise on the best aids for your circumstances.

Hearing aids help prevent the brain from becoming overwhelmed by making conversations and speech easier to hear. Studies have also shown hearing aids boost people’s confidence in dealing with social situations. This confidence allows people to continue living fully active and independent lives. The earlier hearing loss is treated through hearing aids, the less risk there is of developing dementia in later life. 

A HIS can also help if a person is experiencing hearing loss alongside developing dementia. Hearing loss can aggravate symptoms as patients may find it difficult to understand and reply to communication, which can also be misidentified as worsening dementia symptoms. Hearing aids slow down memory decline and improve life quality for patients with the combined conditions of Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss

What should my next steps be?

If you are worried that you or someone close to you is experiencing symptoms related to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or any other cognitive condition, then seek medical advice. If you or someone close to you is experiencing any symptoms of hearing loss, then contacting a HIS is useful. A HIS can measure the level of hearing loss and recommend hearing aids best suited for your condition.

The effects of hearing loss due to age can be lessened through the use of a hearing aid. Dove Hearing LLC are friendly and approachable and can be contacted by calling 208-369-4307. If you have any concerns or queries regarding hearing aids, then do not hesitate to seek their expert advice.