Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Hearing Loss Increases Dementia Risk Dramatically

As we age, many of us find it a bit more difficult to hear.  We may turn our televisions up, set the radio in our car a little louder and smile politely when someone says something which we cannot quite hear.  Unfortunately, ignoring our hearing loss can dramatically increase the likelihood that we will develop dementia.

Causes of Hearing Loss

There are a number of reasons why your hearing may decline as you age.  It could be hereditary.  You may have spent years in an occupation where you were exposed to loud noise.  It is possible you damaged your hearing by occasionally attending loud concerts or clubs where the music was quite loud.

Whatever the reason, at first you may only lose the ability to hear high pitched sounds.  Then, you may notice it is more difficult for you to participate in a conversation at a noisy restaurant.  When you first notice it, you may tell yourself that what you are experiencing is normal.  If you also develop tinnitus, or ringing in the ear, you may feel compelled to see a doctor.  Otherwise, you may suffer in silence for years.

Dangerous Consequences of Hearing Loss

Many people are surprised to discover that hearing loss can actually cause more problems than we realize.  Johns Hopkins followed 639 adults for almost 12 years and discovered that people with mild hearing loss had double the dementia risk; those with moderate hearing loss had triple the risk; and those with severe hearing impairment were "five times more likely to develop dementia."

You may want to go back and re-read that last paragraph.  Even those with MILD hearing loss have double the risk of developing dementia.  The worse your hearing loss, the higher your risk of dementia.  This should be a wake-up call to anyone who chooses to ignore their hearing problems.

In addition, they discovered that people with hearing loss were more likely to experience problems with walking and they fell more often.  This can contribute to other serious health issues

Why Does Hearing Loss Contribute to Dementia?

According to the research from Johns Hopkins, there seems to be two factors which contribute to the increased dementia and other problems.  The first reason, according to their site, is that "brain scans show us that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain."  The other reason is that it can cause social isolation.  As we have reported in the past in this blog, social interaction is a very important tool in preventing or slowing down the development of dementia.  If your hearing loss causes you to avoid social situations, the lack of interaction could gradually cause you to develop dementia.

Can Hearing Aids Make a Difference?

The researchers at Johns Hopkins are in the process of studying whether the use of hearing aids can reduce the risk of dementia.  However, they said "there is no downside to using hearing aids."  They benefit the majority of people who use them and they make it easier for you to stay engaged with your friends and family.

Researchers in France also studied a group of 94 people between the ages of 65 and 85 who had profound deafness in at least one ear.  They gave them cochlear implants along with auditory rehabilitation twice a week.  Impressively, over 80 percent of the people with the lowest cognitive scores showed marked improvement after one year.  In fact, the improvement was almost twice that seen with any of the current medications which have been approved by the FDA for treating Alzheimers. 

It appears that improving your hearing can significantly reduce your risk of dementia, even after you have already begun to develop it!

Hearing Loss is Very Common

Approximately 27 million Americans over the age of 50 have some hearing loss, yet only about one in seven uses a hearing aid.  There is no reason why people should not give them a try.  Today's hearing aids are small (as you can see in the above photo) and are often unnoticeable; they can improve your relationships with the people you love; and most people adjust well to them after the breaking-in period.  It takes a little time for your central auditory system and brain to adjust to one, so it is important that you not give up too soon.  After that, they can be life-changing.

Hearing Aids Can be Expensive

Health insurance usually does not cover the cost of hearing aids and the average price is about $1,675 per ear.   The expense is a major reason why many people do not get them.  However, prices for hearing aids are expected to drop over the next few years, which could mean that more people will try them.  If more people begin to use them, it could be one way we might reduce the number of people who develop dementia in the future, and reduce the extremely high cost of treating dementia patients in coming decades.  Hopefully, if insurance companies see that providing hearing aids to their subscribers will save them money in the long run, the insurance companies will begin to cover more of the cost.

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  1. This is a fascinating study. Unfortunately, I've know several people who have hearing aids and don't use them. Your comment that there's a breaking-in period is so true. Wearers need to be patient with the adjustments needed. I read that there is a new hearing aid that eliminates the need to see a technician for adjustments. The changes can be made by the wearer using their smart phone!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Domestic Diva. Yes, I also know people who have hearing aids and do no use them. That is such a shame because they are more likely to develop dementia. I hope this article will give them the encouragement they need to use their hearing aids.


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