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Hearing Loss and Dementia, the Silent Connection

Aug 28, 2018 06:00AM ● By Alyssa McGinnis

By Mandy Rounseville-Norgaard

Research is uncovering more evidence that hearing loss can increase the onset  or progression of dementia, a condition marked by memory loss and trouble with thinking, problem-solving, and other mental tasks.

There may be things that can be done to lower the chances for mental decline, even if you or a patient starts to have trouble hearing.

What’s the Link?

Research has found that a person’s chances for mental decline tends to increase the worse their hearing problems are.  For example, patients with moderate hearing loss had the same mental decline in 7.7 years, on average, as someone with normal hearing showed in 10.9 years.

Researchers do not know for sure how the two conditions are connected. Frank Lin, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University, reported a combination of three things may be involved:

  • Those with hearing loss tend to feel isolated, since it’s hard to join in conversations or be social with others when you can’t hear. Some research has shown a link between feeling lonely or isolated and dementia.

  • The brain has to work harder to process sound if you are not hearing well. That may take away resources that it could use for other important activities.  

  • If your ears can no longer pick up on sounds, your hearing nerves will send fewer signals to your brain. As a result, auditory deprivation may occur

What Can You Do?

If you want try to lower your chances of hearing loss as you age, try to keep your heart healthy, protect your hearing from loud noises, and do not smoke.

Also, if you suspect hearing loss or think your hearing has changed,  get a hearing test. If there is hearing loss, treat it with the use of amplification. Treating hearing loss is a very simple  intervention that could make a big difference with improving quality of life and delaying the onset or progression of dementia.

Mandy Rouseville-Norgaard, AuD, practice audiology at Sioux Falls Audiology Associates in Sioux Falls.

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