Studies show that by the time Americans reach their 70s, two thirds have some form of hearing loss. Unfortunately, their hearing loss often goes undetected and untreated. By the time they reach 85, one-third of Americans are affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Statistics indicate that there is a possible relationship between aging, hearing loss, and dementia.
Many studies have been conducted to explore the links, and while conclusive evidence has not yet been found that hearing loss is directly tied to dementia, it is highly correlated. This evidence indicates that this relationship should not be ignored.
In one study of cognitive decline over the period of several years, the rate of of decline was much steeper for those with hearing loss – severe enough to interfere with communication. In another study, people with moderate hearing loss were at triple the risk of developing dementia. And in an even further study, patients who were treated with hearing aids showed reduced signs of decline. All of these studies seem to indicate that being able to hear well has a direct impact on the cognitive skills of the patients.
Scientists believe that perhaps the resources used for cognitive functioning, rather than being used for concentration, memory or planning skills, are instead used to help the brain work harder to process sounds. With those resources being used to concentrate on hearing, it allows less opportunity for the brain to work on other processes.
A common phenomenon for both hearing loss and dementia is social isolation. This is often the case when people have difficulty following conversation or participating in a group. Scientists believe that participating in a social environment helps the brain stay engaged and active. By treating hearing loss with hearing devices, this will allow the patient to feel more comfortable in social settings and potentially reduce the risk of dementia.
While there is no definitive link that one causes the other, what is known is how much life can be improved with the aid of hearing devices. The sooner one starts, the better. Keeping on top of cognitive functioning is important. It’s wise to be able to hold onto what we have, and have it for as long as we can.