Hearing loss impacts your ability to communicate with loved ones and interact with the world around you. But did you know that it can also cost you your precious memories, like family picnics at Bacon Creek Park? Studies show that untreated hearing loss increases your risk of dementia and other forms of cognitive decline.
About the Studies
Much research about the link between hearing loss and dementia has come from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
A study from 2011 conducted in partnership with the National Institute on Aging found that seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those with normal hearing.
The study examined data from 639 patients whose hearing and cognition were tested between 1990 and 1994 as part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging (BLSA). A quarter of the participants had some degree of hearing loss at the start of the study, and none had dementia.
The volunteers’ hearing and cognitive abilities were retested every one to two years until 2008, at which point 58 had developed dementia. Compared to those with normal hearing loss, those with:
- Mild hearing loss had double the risk of developing dementia.
- Moderate hearing loss had triple the risk of developing dementia.
- Severe hearing loss had five times the risk of developing dementia.
Researchers hypothesize that there may be a common pathology that underlies both hearing loss and dementia, or that the strain of trying to understand sounds may overwhelm the brain, making it more vulnerable to dementia. It may also be the case that hearing loss causes social isolation, a well-known risk factor for dementia.
A 2013 study is thought to be the first to gauge the impact of hearing loss on higher brain function long-term.
For this study, researchers at Johns Hopkins used data from the Health, Aging and Body Composition (Health ABV) study from 1,984 participants between ages 75 and 84. At the start of the study in 2001, all participants had normal brain function. Their hearing and cognition were repeatedly retested over six years.
Researchers found that those with hearing loss experienced a decline in cognitive abilities that was 30-40% faster than those with normal hearing. This resulted in significant impairment 3.2 years sooner.
“Our findings emphasize just how important it is for physicians to discuss hearing with their patients and to be proactive in addressing any hearing declines over time,” explained lead study author Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D.
Hearing Aids Can Help
Fortunately, hearing aids can help. One study from 2019 found that use of hearing aids is associated with a delayed diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert, call Hearing Health Centers today.