The Connection Between Hearing Loss And Dementia

September 21, 2016 by Raji Parangad
There are many risk factors associated with dementia, but one of the most recently discovered correlations is a condition that few would consider as even related to the disease. Research has identified hearing loss as a potential indicator of the development of dementia. Compared with individuals with normal hearing, people with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia. The findings are found in a study published in 2011 made by Frank Lin, otolaryngologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the US. He and his team followed 639 patients for 18 years. None of the subjects had cognitive impairments at the beginning of the study, although some did have a certain degree of hearing loss. During the 18 years of follow up, 58 cases of dementia were diagnosed amongst the 639 patients. The researchers found that for older adults with hearing loss, brain tissue loss happens faster than it does for those with normal hearing. We “hear” with our brain, not with our ears. When we have a hearing loss, the connections in the brain that respond to sound become reorganised.

Fortunately, for many people, hearing aids can provide the sound stimulation needed for the brain to restore the normal organisation of connections to its “sound centre” so it can more readily react to the sounds that it had been missing and cognitively process them.

Researchers says un-addressed hearing loss not only affects the listener’s ability to “hear” the sound accurately, but it also affects higher-level cognitive function. Specifically, it interferes with the listener’s ability to accurately process the auditory information and make sense of it.

In one study, Wingfield and his co-investigators found that older adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss performed poorer on cognitive tests than those of the same age who had good hearing. The sharpness of an individual’s hearing has cascading consequences for various aspects of cognitive function. Even if you have just a mild hearing loss that is not being treated, cognitive load increases significantly.One has to put in so much effort just to perceive and understand what is being said that you divert resources away from storing what you have heard into your memory. As people move through middle age and their later years, researchers suggest, it is reasonable for to get  hearing tested annually. If there is a hearing loss, it is best to take it seriously and treat it.

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