Seeking Hearing Loss Treatment Could Help Prevent or Delay Dementia

Seeking Hearing Loss Treatment Could Help Prevent or Delay Dementia
Dr. Steinberg

About 48 million Americans today suffer from some form of hearing loss, but only about 1 out of 5 get to the point of doing something about it. On average, people tend to wait about 7 years from the time they notice hearing loss to the time they seek treatment. This is unfortunate; where once we might have thought of hearing loss as an annoying but relatively benign aspect of getting older, today we know that untreated hearing loss can have a wide range of negative effects on health and well-being.

The studied consequences of untreated hearing loss include loneliness, depression and social isolation, increased risk of injury due to falling, memory issues, and even an earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia. Hearing loss that progresses at a faster-than-normal rate can even be an indicator of an underlying cardiovascular issue.

Regular Hearing Tests

The Better Hearing Institute, a not-for-profit organization, has recommended that everyone get their hearing tested at least once per decade until age 50, and once every three years thereafter. Regular hearing testing is the best way to stay alert to early indicators of hearing loss, so we can make any necessary changes to our lifestyles before hearing loss becomes a significant issue. We might be more careful about protecting our ears in some situations that we thought were not potentially damaging to our hearing, quit smoking, or adopt an anti-inflammatory diet, all of which have been proven to reduce the risk for hearing loss.

Hearing Aids Improve Lifestyle and Mood

Once we do have hearing loss, hearing aids are the best way to keep ourselves going strong. Research has shown that those who treat hearing loss with hearing aids are more active, spend more time out of doors, have more active social lives, better memories, and even have better self-esteem and a more optimistic attitude about the state of the world!

Hearing Aids Can Help Prevent or Delay Dementia

Preventing dementia is one of the newest positive effects of getting hearing aids to be added to the list. A study conducted at the University of Southern California concluded that 12 modifiable risk factors are responsible for about 40% of cases of dementia, and untreated hearing loss is among the most significant.

In isolation, untreated mild hearing loss by itself doubles our risk of dementia. Moderate hearing loss increases the risk threefold, and profound hearing loss puts us at five times the risk of dementia as a person with normal hearing.

There are a few theories as to why this may be the case. One of them is the idea of “cognitive load,” where the extra brain power required to understand speech and other environmental sounds may wear down the brain. Another is that the atrophy of the auditory cortex, which happens as hearing loss goes untreated, engenders other changes in the brain that promote the onset of dementia. Still another is that the difficulties presented by trying to hear when we can’t are so great that our brain becomes starved of stimuli; a kind of “use it or lose it” theory.

All of this may sound scary, but it’s important to remember that if your risk for dementia is otherwise low aside from having hearing loss, even five times that risk will still be a low number. Still, using hearing aids can likely bring your risk for dementia (not to mention other health concerns) even lower.

Hearing Aids: Generally Good Practice

Hearing aids have also been shown to help people make other changes that also decrease the risk for dementia. Other risk factors for dementia include decreased physical activity and obesity. It’s also likely that loneliness and social isolation play a role. Meanwhile, those who wear hearing aids tend to be more active and have more social time than those who don’t treat their hearing loss. When you consider that simply wearing hearing aids in the first place can reduce the risk for dementia, it’s easy to see how these “side effects” of hearing aids can help to bring the risk even lower.

While the mechanisms at play in hearing loss’s role in promoting dementia are not fully understood, there is enough correlation suggesting causation that wearing hearing aids is one of the best choices you can make.

If you’re having hearing issues, make an appointment with us for a hearing test today and see if hearing aids are right for you. It’s one of the best things you can do to ensure your continued good health and well-being!