Hearing Impairment and Dementia: What’s the Connection?

Hearing test showing ear of senior man with sound waves simulation technology

If you start talking about dementia at your next family get-together, you will probably put a dark cloud above the entire event.

Dementia isn’t a topic most people are intentionally looking to discuss, mostly because it’s rather scary. A degenerative cognitive disease in which you gradually (or, more frighteningly, quickly) lose your cognitive faculties, dementia forces you to lose touch with reality, go through mood swings, and have memory loss. It isn’t something anybody looks forward to.

For this reason, many individuals are looking for a way to counter, or at least slow, the development of dementia. It turns out, neglected hearing loss and dementia have several pretty clear connections and correlations.

You might be surprised by that. What could your brain have to do with your ears after all? Why does hearing loss increase the risk of dementia?

When you neglect hearing loss, what are the repercussions?

Maybe you’ve noticed your hearing loss already, but you aren’t that concerned about it. It’s nothing that turning up the volume on your tv won’t solve, right? Maybe you’ll simply put on the captions when you’re watching your favorite program.

On the other hand, maybe you haven’t detected your hearing loss yet. Perhaps the signs are still easy to disregard. In either case, hearing loss and cognitive decline have a powerful correlation. That’s because of the effects of untreated hearing loss.

  • It becomes harder to understand conversations. Consequently, you may start to isolate yourself socially. You might become removed from loved ones and friends. You won’t talk with others as much. This type of social isolation is, well, not good for your brain. It’s not good for your social life either. Further, most people who have this sort of isolation won’t even realize that hearing loss is the cause.
  • Your brain will begin to work much harder. Your ears will get less audio information when you have untreated hearing loss. This will leave your brain filling in the missing info. This will really exhaust your brain. The present concept is, when this takes place, your brain draws power from your thought and memory centers. The thinking is that after a while this leads to dementia (or, at least, helps it progress). Your brain working so hard can also result in all manner of other symptoms, such as mental stress and tiredness.

So your hearing loss isn’t quite as innocuous as you may have suspected.

Hearing loss is one of the leading signs of dementia

Let’s say you just have mild hearing impairment. Whispers might get lost, but you can hear everything else so…no problem right? Well, turns out you’re still twice as likely to get dementia as somebody who doesn’t have hearing loss.

So one of the preliminary indications of dementia can be even minor hearing loss.

So… How should we understand this?

We’re considering risk in this situation which is relevant to note. Hearing loss isn’t an early symptom of dementia and there’s no guarantee it will result in dementia. It does mean that later in life you will have a higher chance of developing cognitive decline. But that could actually be good news.

Because it means that successfully dealing with your hearing loss can help you decrease your risk of dementia. So how can hearing loss be addressed? There are numerous ways:

  • You can take a few steps to safeguard your hearing from further damage if you catch your hearing loss early enough. You could, for instance, use hearing protection if you work in a noisy environment and avoid noisy events such as concerts or sporting events.
  • Come see us so we can help you identify any hearing loss you may have.
  • The impact of hearing loss can be decreased by wearing hearing aids. Now, can hearing aids prevent cognitive decline? That’s tough to say, but hearing aids can enhance brain function. Here’s the reason why: You’ll be more socially active and your brain won’t have to work so hard to carry on discussions. Your chance of developing dementia later in life is reduced by treating hearing loss, research indicates. It won’t prevent dementia but we can still call it a win.

Other ways to reduce your dementia risk

You can minimize your chance of cognitive decline by doing some other things as well, of course. Here are a few examples:

  • Getting sufficient sleep at night is crucial. There are studies that link fewer than four hours of sleep every night to an increase in the risk of dementia.
  • A diet that helps you maintain a healthy blood pressure and is good for your overall well being can go a long way. For individuals who naturally have higher blood pressure, it may be necessary to use medication to bring it down.
  • Stop smoking. Seriously. Smoking will increase your chance of cognitive decline as well as impacting your general health (this list also includes drinking too much alcohol).
  • Get some exercise.

The connection between lifestyle, hearing loss, and dementia is still being researched by scientists. It’s a complicated disease with a matrix of causes. But the lower your risk, the better.

Hearing is its own benefit

So, over time, hearing better will decrease your general risk of cognitive decline. You’ll be improving your life now, not just in the future. Imagine, no more solitary visits to the store, no more lost conversations, no more misunderstandings.

Missing out on the important things in life is no fun. And taking steps to manage your hearing loss, maybe by using hearing aids, can be really helpful.

So call us today for an appointment.



The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.