Hearing loss can come at any age. Many people don’t realize that when it arrives in midlife, it increases the risk of dementia in later life. The greater the hearing loss, the greater the risk of dementia. People who have mild hearing loss in midlife have twice the risk of dementia of those without hearing loss. People with moderate hearing loss, are three times as likely to develop dementia. With severe hearing loss, dementia risk increases five-fold.
It’s not clear how hearing loss leads to dementia. There are several proposed models. Hearing loss can lead to depression, and depression increases our risk for dementia, but this is not enough to explain the extent of the link. Hearing loss puts a strain on the brain, as we struggle to understand what we can only partially hear. Again, it is not clear that this explains the link between hearing loss and dementia. The lack of stimulation or social isolation associated with hearing loss may also play a role.
Regardless of the cause, the best cure for hearing loss related dementia is twofold: patients can either protect their hearing, if they cause is preventable, or use hearing aids.
Hearing loss has many causes, including genetics, exposure to loud noises, diabetes, kidney disease, head injuries and hardening of the arteries. Some of these causes are preventable and some are not. While the cliché cause is hearing loss is rock music, farming is one of the top three occupations associated with hearing loss. When working with heavy machinery, farmers should be careful to use ear protection in the form of ear plugs, canal caps or ear muffs. Hearing Loss Prevention – AgriSafe Network
Dementia linked to hearing loss does not appear to be reversible. However, wearing a hearing aid can keep dementia from getting worse, or at least the part of dementia that was caused by hearing loss. Unfortunately, many people who need a hearing aid either don’t realize it or are reluctant to wear one. Over 40% of people over 50 have hearing loss. Very few of these actually wear a hearing aid. Since even mild hearing loss can lead to dementia, it’s very important that these patients obtain testing from an audiologist and, if necessary, get hearing aids.
If you are having a hard time following conversations, frequently ask people to repeat what they have said, turn the television up louder than others or notice that normal sounds have changed, it may be time to have your hearing tested. If it turns out that you need a hearing aid, don’t worry. The costs and sizes of hearing aids have come down considerably in recent years. You may even be able to get some that link directly to Bluetooth! Hearing Aids Have Come a Long Way | Rush Memorial Hospital