Why Are People with Hearing Loss More Prone to Dementia?
Millions of people experience hearing loss within their lifetimes, especially as they get older. While it's a troublesome fact of life for many, the issue is further compounded by the possibility of dementia too. Of course, some might say that dementia and hearing loss could be exclusive of each other, as they are both related to the aging process. As we get older, we do risk losing certain faculties, including our hearing and our cognitive functions.
However, several major studies on the subject have shown that individuals with moderate to severe hearing loss are five times more likely to develop dementia as they get older. So, there does seem to be a definite link, and while hearing loss in and of itself doesn't cause dementia there are reasons why there could be a link between the two.
There are all kinds of theories about the correlation between hearing loss and dementia, and while there has been no direct proof at the time of writing, some of them do seem likely.
Below are three of the common theories that are being widely discussed today.
Changes in brain function
When the hearing part of the brain becomes inactive, changes take place within the brain structure, and tissue loss occurs. This is also known as brain shrinkage. Some believe this process could be key to explaining why people with hearing loss are more susceptible to dementia.
When it's difficult to hear what people are saying, it is believed that the brains of people with hearing loss have to work much harder to decipher what is being said. Scientists suggest this mental energy steals the brainpower needed for other cognitive functions, such as thinking and remembering. So, when a person with hearing loss is having to strain to hear all day, they have less mental energy for those other important facets of their lives. This, or so the theory goes, is a possible link between hearing loss and dementia.
Social isolation is a serious issue, as it can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, worry and loneliness. It has been suggested that people with hearing loss are more susceptible to social isolation than others, as they sometimes have a tendency to withdraw from social situations because of the difficulties they are experiencing with their hearing. How can this be connected to dementia? Well, when we don't stimulate our brains through social interactions, our cognitive functions can decline and according to scientists, we can become more prone to dementia. Of course, this can also apply to those people who don't have hearing loss, as studies have shown that any person who doesn't engage their brain regularly can become prone to dementia.
Am I going to get dementia?
If you are experiencing hearing loss, you don't need to assume you will become a dementia statistic. However, there are things you can do to minimize your risks later in life.
Firstly, if you haven't already done so, get a hearing test. A hearing instrument specialist will examine your hearing, and will suggest a course of action of you are struggling to hear. It might be that something needs to be done to improve your hearing, which, at a basic level, could be removing wax from your ear, or you might need to have a hearing aid fitted or have medical treatment. When your hearing is restored again, you won't have to experience brain overload and your brain will be able to operate normally.
Secondly, don't isolate yourself. This is something you might do if you haven't had your hearing treated, so as we said, seek help. But even if you do have to wear a hearing aid, you don't have to isolate yourself in embarrassment. Many devices built today can barely be seen by the naked eye, so speak to a hearing instrument specialist for advice on the types of hearing aid you may be able to get fitted. Some devices can also be attuned to your lifestyle, so don't give up on sports or any other activities where you might meet others, as a hearing instrument specialist will give you advice on the types of hearing aid you can wear.
At the Center for Better Hearing, we are committed to supporting you with every aspect of your hearing health. So, if you want to know more about the correlation between dementia and hearing loss, or if you would like advice on any other aspects related to your hearing, give us a call at 510-768-7091. Our friendly team of professionals will do all they can to put your mind at ease, and to put you on the right path with your hearing journey.