The Truth About Hearing Loss and Dementia

by | Dec 2, 2020 | Hearing Loss

Hearing loss sometimes feels like a condition that is hidden in plain sight. Statistics show that nearly FIFTY MILLION Americans experience some form of hearing loss. That’s almost 15% of our total population. Yet, despite this prevalence, only about 20% of people who have a hearing loss seek treatment. Why is something so common, something that has negative effects beyond those specific to hearing itself, like cognitive, social, and even financial barriers, so difficult for people to pursue testing and treatment for?

Is the fact that hearing loss is gradual, therefore more difficult to detect, than, say, a broken tooth or a clear loss of vision? Is it the stigma around hearing aids that still seems to exist, despite the many, many incredible advancements in testing, care, and technology that have taken place in the last 25 five years (and especially so in the last 5)? Or is it that we tend to perceive ourselves as younger than we really are and that hearing loss is something that happens to “old people?”

Hearing: It’s a matter of perception — sensorially and emotionally

The fact is that hearing loss is common and it is an inevitable part of aging, due to our prolonged exposure to noise over the years and the natural effects of growing older. But that doesn’t mean that we simply spend our years wilting away until our hearing disappears entirely. Hearing loss is typically not curable, but many aspects of hearing loss are very much treatable. 

And if we choose to focus on that, in partnership with hearing care experts who are committed to comprehensive testing; building a close relationship with you so that you understand the true nature of your hearing loss; and presenting you with treatment options that are designed to be effective and empowering, then those barriers start to break down. And suddenly you have your life back. You can be reengaged with things you didn’t even know you were missing.  

But in order to truly embrace the possibilities, we need to have a deeper understanding of how hearing loss occurs and what happens when we don’t treat it, so we’re all more incentivized to take action about this vital aspect of our health. For at least the last decade, researchers have been studying and have come to the conclusion that there is indeed a connection between dementia and hearing loss. What’s more, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the earlier we intervene with the right treatment and partnership, the better we can improve people’s hearing while drastically delaying the effects of cognitive impairment.

What is the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline?

As we mentioned earlier, hearing loss is a common occurrence with aging, but there are a number of other reasons people lose their hearing. A prolonged period of exposure to noise or sometimes a single, profound noise experience (think of the sound of a gunshot close to the ears, for instance) are ordinary reasons for hearing loss. Genetics can also cause hearing loss.

A lesser known reason for hearing loss are what are called “ototoxic medications,” or medications that are used to treat other ailments that have side effects including either temporary or permanent hearing loss. There are over 200 of these types of drugs being prescribed to patients. While that might be concerning, the good news is that as medical researchers learn more about the human body, the more they are able to understand the connections between ailments and how treating one condition can also improve another. 

As research on hearing loss has improved, the better experts have been able to understand that hearing loss usually does not exist in isolation. Its effects can be tied to other conditions such as diabetes, complications from smoking, cardiovascular disease, and more. These are called “comorbidities.”

What is a comorbidity? Well, comorbidity can be defined as simultaneous, related diseases, illnesses, or conditions a person is afflicted with where an overarching condition is worsened by one or more other conditions. 

The relationship between hearing loss and dementia is a perfect example of a comorbidity, with studies showing that people who have hearing loss are five times more likely to also develop dementia. 

As stated previously, hearing loss is often a gradual occurrence. This can make social situations, like family gatherings, outings at restaurants and parties, or other public events where a variety of sound and noisier environments are commonplace increasingly difficult to participate in because recognizing speech in noise becomes harder. The brain is forced to work harder, increasing feelings of fatigue. People will then isolate themselves and, without proper intervention and treatment, the slippery slope of hearing loss and cognitive impairment begins. 

How can we delay the effects of hearing loss and dementia?

As with many ailments, the earlier we can intervene, the better your long-term health can be. If you’re over the age of fifty, then we recommend you form the good habit of undergoing annual hearing evaluations. You do this for your vision and for your dental health, right? Your hearing deserves the same treatment. If we can start monitoring your hearing now, then should you develop a hearing loss we can create the most appropriate treatment plan to benefit for years to come — and the research backs this up. 

For those who took action within a three-year window of having a treatable hearing loss identified, the University of Michigan found that wearers of technology reduced their risk of dementia by 20%. And the benefits don’t stop there. Feelings of social isolation, depression, anxiety, even the risk of falls — one of the top health risks for people over 65 — can be drastically reduced through improved hearing health. 

Colorado Ear Care wants you to live a long, healthy life with the best hearing possible!

Sure, technology matters, but it’s not the only solution for hearing conditions. At Colorado Ear Care, our commitment is to each and every one of our patients’ individual needs. Sometimes that’s hearing technology, sometimes not. That’s why we’ve built our reputation on providing comprehensive testing and treatment services for patients with a wide variety of hearing, balance, and dizziness-related issues. 

The relationship you have with your provider is vital to your outcomes. Our goal is to help you hear and live your best, and we do that by doing all we can to help you understand the nature of your condition and the options available to you to best treat that condition. It’s about service, not sales. 

If you’re concerned about your hearing or that of a loved one, then we encourage you to contact us today. As we’ve stated, early intervention is key. You deserve to live a life filled with the people and things that you love, and through our treatment and services, our goal is to get you there! 

Talk with one of our friendly hearing and balance professionals today.