Pawffice Manager Bane here! Boy, oh, boy, there’s nothing like the sound of squirrels, the doorbell, and a fav-fur-ite squeaky toy, so it’s no wonder that hearing loss can profoundly affect the experiences you care about most. But did you know that hearing loss is also linked to other problems such as dementia?
A growing body of research is definitely barking in that direction. So let’s dig into this paw-turbing situation, including discussing an important step you could take to potentially protect yourself from dementia and stay connected to the sounds you love.
A Troubling Link
An estimated 50 million people have dementia, per the World Health Organization, with cases expected to more than triple by 2050. The syndrome, most commonly manifested as Alzheimer’s disease, has a wide range of causes and symptoms and mainly involves critical functions such as thinking and memory.
Amid increasing reports pointing to connections between hearing loss and cognitive decline, medical experts and researchers are finding greater prevalence of dementia among people with hearing impairment than in those without it.
In a University of Utah longitudinal cohort study of more than 4,400 older adults, for example, otolaryngologist and professor Dr. Richard Gurgel and his team found that those with hearing loss developed dementia at a higher rate than their normal-hearing peers.
The study, published in 2014, also found that:
- People with hearing loss can experience earlier onset of cognitive decline.
- People with hearing loss can experience greater severity of cognitive decline.
- Hearing impairment is “an independent predictor of developing dementia.”
Similarly, research funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders explored potential links among hearing loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. The study, involving 639 people ages 36 to 90 and a follow-up period that lasted nearly 12 years, clearly demonstrated a risk of incident dementia for those with hearing loss.
Investigators found that those with mild hearing loss were nearly twice as likely to develop dementia, those with moderate hearing loss had a tripled risk, and individuals with severe impairment had a nearly five-fold risk. These linear increases help reinforce the importance of early hearing-care intervention to support hearing and brain health.
Help and Hope
How might hearing loss contribute to mental decline? Scientists are still sniffing out the answers. One of the paws-ibilities involves “ties between hearing loss and social isolation, with loneliness being well established in previous research as a risk factor for cognitive decline,” stated Johns Hopkins professor and tireless hearing-health researcher Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., in an online university news release.
Social isolation can be a serious complication of untreated hearing loss. Even older adults with milder levels of hearing loss are less likely to socially engage than their hearing-impaired peers who do use hearing technology, according to a study commissioned by the National Council on Aging.
Here’s some good news to go mutts for: With hearing aid use, age-related cognitive decline may slow as much as 75%, according to recent research. Separately, an analysis by The Lancet International Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care found that addressing a selected group of potentially modifiable risk factors such as hearing loss could help cut dementia cases globally by a third.
The paw-ttom line? Keeping your hearing health in top shape pet-tentially reduces the risk of dementia, so please don’t wait. Call my favorite audiologists at Eastpoint Audiology — Dr. Melanie Driscoll and Dr. Kristin Lenz — for a complimentary hearing screening and technology demo today!
Love and off-leash parks,
- World Health Organization. Dementia. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia. Accessed June 3, 2019.
- Gurgel RK et al. Relationship of Hearing Loss and Dementia: A Prospective, Population-Based Study. Otology & Neurotology. 2014;35(5):775–781. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4024067/. Accessed June 3, 2019.
- Lin F et al. Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia. Arch Neurol. 2011;68(2):214–220. http://archneur.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=802291. Accessed June 3, 2019.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hearing Loss Accelerates Brain Function Decline in Older Adults. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_accelerates_brain_function_decline_in_older_adults. Accessed June 3, 2019.
- Wiley Online Library. Longitudinal Relationship Between Hearing Aid Use and Cognitive Function in Older Americans. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jgs.15363. Accessed June 3, 2019.
- NPR. Want to Keep Your Brain Sharp? Take Care of Your Eyes and Ears. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/10/22/658810909/can-t-hear-well-fixing-hearing-losscan-keep-your-memory-sharper. Accessed June 3, 2019.
- Frankish H, Horton R. Prevention and Management of Dementia: A Priority for Public Health. The Lancet. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)31756-7/fulltext. Accessed June 3, 2019.
- National Council on Aging. The Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss in Older Persons. https://www.ncoa.org/wp-content/uploads/NCOA-Study-1999.pdf. Accessed June 3, 2019.