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Hearing Aids And Cognitive Decline: The Link Between Hearing Loss And Dementia

There is an established correlation between untreated age-related hearing loss and an increased risk of developing dementia and cognitive decline. Several prominent research studies have found that older individuals with hearing loss have a significantly higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia over time compared to those with normal hearing.

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Dementia in the Elderly

Dementia is a broad term used to describe a severe decline in mental ability that interferes with daily life. It is caused by physical changes in the brain and gets progressively worse over time.

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of cases, but other major types include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. Key symptoms include memory loss, difficulty communicating, disorientation, confusion, behavioral changes, and inability to manage self-care.

There is currently no cure for dementia, but some medications and lifestyle changes may help slow progression. Supportive care in the later stages focuses on quality of life and safety. Researchers continue working to better understand dementia’s complex causes and progression.

Hearing Loss and Dementia

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According to a leading study from Johns Hopkins University, individuals over 60 years old with hearing loss had a 24% increased risk of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia over a 10-year period compared to participants without hearing impairment. The risk increases with the severity of an individual's hearing loss.

How Does Hearing Loss Relate to Cognitive Decline?

Researchers theorise there are a few reasons why untreated hearing loss is associated with dementia:

  • Social Isolation - Hearing loss can lead to social isolation and loneliness in older adults, which are risk factors for dementia. Withdrawal from social situations may accelerate cognitive decline.
  • Cognitive Overload - Hearing loss causes the brain to overcompensate to interpret garbled sounds from the ears, depleting extra cognitive resources and rewiring neural pathways. Over time, this rewiring and depletion are linked to memory and cognition issues.
  • Early Symptom - There is some belief that hearing loss may in fact be an early symptom in the development of dementia, appearing up to 10 years before initial memory symptoms arise. Hearing impairment resulting from changes in the auditory cortex could precede cognitive decline.

Treating Hearing Loss May Help Prevent Dementia

The good news is that several studies indicate treating hearing loss may help mitigate the associated risks of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals who use hearing aids to improve their auditory function demonstrate better memory, cognition, speech perception, social engagement and quality of life while slowing the impacts of cognitive decline. You can see what hearing aids are available for you by visiting a hearing specialist.

Early intervention with hearing aids appears critical - those who have used hearing aids for less than 5 years do not show the protective effects against developing Alzheimer’s. But consistent, long-term hearing aid use helps keep cognitive decline at bay. Using advanced hearing technology may support healthier neural pathways and brain structure.

The message is clear: the links between hearing health and cognition mean that treating age-related hearing loss as soon as possible is crucial for maintaining cognitive function and delaying dementia as we age. Consistently wearing properly fitted hearing aids plays a demonstrated role in supporting the ageing brain.

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