Hearing loss is among the most common health issues affecting older adults. In fact, while some level of hearing loss is present in up to two-thirds of those past age 70, hearing loss numbers rise over age 60, and the percentages increase steadily.
There is a direct connection between hearing loss and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Paired with the increase in hearing loss prevalence are the rising statistics for dementia. In the U.S. alone, there are at least five million people living with dementia as a result of aging. Sadly, it is estimated that among those who live over age 55, one out of six women and one of ten men will develop dementia.
There has been conclusive evidence gathered in studies and surveys to confirm a strong connection between hearing loss and dementia. This is true even for mild hearing loss, let alone the more identifiable severe hearing loss. In fact, the worse the hearing loss, the more likely the person is to develop dementia. It is also interesting to note that there are other similar health-related connections, such as hearing loss and heart disease.
Cognitive Load and the Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
The hearing loss and dementia connection appears to involve brain function. It can be said that hearing loss makes harder work for the brain. Auditory centers in the brain rely on the input of sound. The absence of that input causes that part of the brain to degenerate. When that occurs, the brain compensates, using other parts in its struggle to process auditory information.
This is a phenomenon called cognitive load. When that compensation happens, and the brain in a sense “borrows” from other parts of itself, it means there is less available use of brain power for other functions. Research shows that the parts from which it “borrows” deal with memory and learning.
Hearing Aids and Dementia
While hearing loss is widely prevalent, it can be mitigated. In fact, hearing loss is one of the top potential risk factors for dementia that can be modified, according to the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care.
In addition to being a modifiable risk, solving hearing loss can also protect cognitive function by maintaining and even restoring function in the part of the brain that receives auditory input. This is particularly the case in the earlier stages of hearing loss—all the more reason to get hearing tested and treated in a timely manner.
Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids
The clear antidote for hearing loss is hearing aids. There is enormous room for improvement in the treatment of hearing loss and all of its social and physiological consequences.
That’s because only about 20 percent of those who have hearing loss seek the help they need, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). And when they do finally get that help, they have often waited over a decade from the onset of the problem until they acquire their first set of hearing aids.
Proof of the value of hearing aids and brain health comes from scientific studies, notably PAQUID, a well-known epidemiological French program on the brain and aging. This 25-year-long study found that hearing aids nearly eliminate cognitive decline, making those who use them not much different in their rate of cognitive decline than a control group who reported no hearing loss.
Treating hearing loss with hearing aids is valuable on many levels, preventing cognitive decline being just one of them. Those who receive professional help that results in hearing aids are known to have a higher quality of life. This extends from social activities to the workplace, and as proven, to various health conditions such as dementia.
Finding the Best Hearing Aids
Every person’s hearing loss and lifestyle is different, so hearing aids are most effective when customized to meet individual needs. In addition, quality, comfort, ease of use—all of these are among factors important for those who benefit from hearing aids.
Diagnosis Comes First
Realizing the importance of recognizing and treating hearing loss early is clearly vital.
If you’d like to schedule a hearing test, call Sonora Hearing Care. We have multiple doctors of audiology available to see patients. At Sonora Hearing Care, we take our time to provide the best, longest-lasting treatment for hearing loss, including customized hearing aids. Contact us today.