10 May, 2024

Imagine this — you’re enjoying a conversation with a loved one, but their words seem muffled. You struggle to hear so you ask them to repeat themselves. These frustrating moments are a reality for millions of people experiencing hearing loss, a common part of aging. While it may seem a minor issue, what if the impact goes beyond inaudible conversations?

Recent research suggests a connection between untreated hearing loss and cognitive impairment, showing a higher prevalence rate of this brain disease among people with moderate to severe hearing issues.

The correlation doesn’t equal causation and hearing loss doesn’t guarantee cognitive decline. However, it’s a contributing factor. The good news is treating hearing loss with hearing aids may reduce your risk of dementia.

What Links Hearing Loss With Dementia?

Hearing loss is a common symptom of aging, affecting millions of people worldwide. While it may be normal for some people, it can sometimes be a symptom of cognitive impairment. Studies established a link between hearing problems and an elevated risk of dementia.

Research has uncovered a compelling correlation between poor hearing and brain decline. Experts found that severe hearing loss is correlated with dementia. Among individuals with hearing issues rated as moderate to severe, the incidence of dementia was 61% higher than in those with good hearing. But why is there such a strong association?

What’s the Impact of Untreated Hearing Loss on Cognition?

Hearing loss can have far-reaching consequences for brain health. When the auditory system is compromised, the brain must work harder to process sounds, diverting cognitive resources away from other important functions like memory and decision-making. Over time, this cognitive overload can contribute to the onset and progression of dementia.

This dynamic alone can’t cause brain impairment. Several factors contribute to it and hearing problems are just one. Here’s the positive part — using hearing aids may reduce your risk of dementia.

How Hearing Aids May Help You Prevent Dementia

Researchers are still exploring the exact reasons behind this connection, but a few theories stand out:

Reduced Cognitive Strain

When your hearing abilities decline, your brain works harder to fill in the gaps. This constant effort can take away from cognitive resources that would otherwise be used for other functions like memory and focus. Hearing aids can alleviate this strain, freeing up your brain for other tasks.

Social Engagement

When auditory perception becomes difficult, socializing can feel less enjoyable. You might start to avoid activities you used to love. But staying connected with others is important for keeping your brain active and healthy. That’s where hearing aids come in. They make it easier to hear and communicate, helping you reconnect with loved ones and stay engaged in social activities.

Brain Stimulation

Another positive impact of hearing aids on dementia risk is the increase in cognitive stimulation. Auditory impairment disrupts the auditory stimulation reaching the brain, contributing to cognitive decline. Hearing aids help restore it, keeping the mind more active and healthier.

Auditory Memory Enhancement

Having a mental disorder doesn’t mean a person will develop dementia. However, it can increase the possibility of affecting cognition.

These hearing assistive tools may also strengthen auditory memory pathways in the brain. It can enhance your ability to remember conversations and other information your sense of hearing captures, which are crucial aspects of overall cognitive function. Here are two ways they help.

  • Plasticity and brain reorganization: The brain has a remarkable ability to adapt and change, even in later life. The same study above suggests that using hearing aids may stimulate neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new connections and reorganize itself. This ongoing reorganization can help maintain cognitive function as we age.
  • Reduced inflammation: Chronic inflammation is linked to various health problems, including dementia. About 40% of people with cognitive impairment show increased chronic inflammation. Untreated hearing issues can contribute to brain inflammation, increasing the risk of dementia. Hearing aids can boost your ability to hear and process sound and may help counter inflammation, promoting brain health.

While more research is needed to fully understand the impact of hearing aids on dementia risk, the current findings are optimistic. Managing hearing loss with hearing aids offers a multi-pronged approach to caring for the brain and possibly delaying the onset or progression of dementia.

Taking Action: Talking to Your Loved One

Conversations about hearing aids and dementia can feel overwhelming for older family members. If you’re unsure what to do, here are some tips to bring up the topic in a way that doesn’t leave a negative experience on them.

1. Choose the Right Time and Place

It’s all about timing. Choose a moment when your loved one feels calm and receptive. Avoid bringing the conversation up during stressful situations or when they’re tired as it can merit an aggressive response.

2. Lead with Love and Concern

Express your love and concern for their well-being. Phrases like “I’ve noticed you seem to have trouble hearing conversations lately” or “I care about your health, and I wanted to talk about your hearing” can open the door for a gentle discussion.

3. Focus on the Benefits

Instead of dwelling on the downsides of auditory loss, highlight the benefits of improved hearing. Talk about how clearer communication can enhance their social life, enjoyment of hobbies, and overall sense of connection.

4. Listen Actively

Give your loved one your full attention when they start talking. Allow them to express their concerns or frustrations about their hearing loss situation without interruption. Validate their feelings and acknowledge the challenges they’re facing.

5. Offer Support, Not Pressure

Don’t pressure them into getting a hearing test or using aids. Instead, offer to accompany them to an audiologist for an appointment or help them research hearing aid options.

6. Schedule a Hearing Test

Once they’re more open to the idea of treatment, encourage them to visit an audiologist for a checkup to assess their healing. It’s a painless process so it should be easy to convince them.

7. Explore Hearing Aid Solutions

If your loved one needs assistive devices to improve their auditory ability, involve them in finding an effective solution. Let them make the decision and provide support by searching for resources available to help with the cost.

8. Be Patient

It might take time for them to accept their declining health. Be patient and offer support throughout the process. Here are some resources you can get valuable information about the condition.

Hearing Aids May Reduce Your Risk of Dementia

By getting a test, you or your loved one can take a big step towards protecting not just your ears, but also your cognition and by extension connection with the world.

If you suspect an older family relative having hearing problems, convince them to book a hearing test. Early diagnosis leads to more effective interventions.

Syed Rizvi

Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.

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