The Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
Hearing loss could be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease
In 2011, Dr. Ronna Fisher, Au.D., informed her staff about the link between dementia and hearing loss. She said Hearing Health Center, the Company she founded in 1984, has a new mission: To tell and educate everyone they meet about the dangers and risks of hearing loss. Her staff did not believe her. No one did, including the physicians she tried to educate.
That did not stop her. Dr. Fisher is known for being an early adopter in hearing techniques and technology. She knew that poor capacity to process and understand speech is a sign that the brain is shutting down. “When the brain can no longer make sense of the information it receives, cognitive function is in danger,” Said Fisher. She enacted a new diagnostic protocol at all Hearing Health Center offices. The new protocol included testing the brain’s ability to process and understand speech, especially in background noise.
The link between hearing loss and dementia is now definitive.
“The risk of developing dementia doubles for older adults with mild hearing loss, and triples for those with moderate hearing loss. In addition, for those with severe hearing loss, the risk is five times that of someone who does not suffer hearing loss. Notably, the Lancet study also found that of nine potential risk factors for developing dementia, hearing loss was the highest at nine percent.”
By 2060, the proportion of those over 60 will double, and those living with dementia is expected to triple. In addition, recent research has found that shrinkage of brain tissue is fast-tracked for those with hearing loss. The rate of brain tissue atrophy accelerates 40% faster in those with hearing loss when compared to those with normal hearing. Overall, those with hearing loss were found to have lost more than an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue each year compared with those without impaired hearing.
To date, we do not know the actual causal or correlational link between the two conditions. There are however, several theories.
- Hearing loss and cognitive decline occur in parallel. Hearing loss could be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, causing impaired speech perception, especially in the presence of background noise. “Studies have shown a strong association, and, in addition, we have seen that the severity of cognitive decline is associated with the severity of hearing loss, which shows a compelling connection.”
- Hearing loss increases demands on cognitive resources. The brain has to work a lot harder just to attend and listen with diminished hearing ability. The struggle to understand, and grasp, the conversation requires the brain to “borrow” cognitive tasks from other parts of the brain, especially memory. Basically, the more effort it takes to listen, the less information gets transferred to memory,
- Hearing loss causes brain reorganization and/or social deprivation, resulting in cognitive decline. A decrease in hearing ability often causes withdrawal from social interactions and engagement. In turn, there is a reduction in cognitive function necessary to access and interact with the environment.
Regardless of cause/effect/correlation between hearing loss and dementia, it is definitive that early detection and treatment with hearing aids is critical in preventing and/or slowing cognitive decline. A new study at the University of Manchester claimed wearing hearing aids could slow the process of dementia by up to 75 percent.
Several mechanisms may explain the relationship between hearing aid use and slower cognitive decline.
- Hearing aids reduce depression, promote social engagement, increase both social engagement and physical activity, and improve self-efficacy.
- Hearing aids reduce the adverse impacts of sensory deprivation on brain function.
- Hearing aids stimulate the neural pathways to the brain and increase the critical information the brain needs to process speech.
Audiologists are the only uniquely qualified experts who are skilled in providing diagnostic and rehabilitative care in treating hearing, balance and tinnitus.
Thousands of patients are grateful and thankful to Hearing Health Center. As one patient succinctly stated, “Staying abreast of the latest medical news, pro-actively implementing new techniques, and offering the latest technology from every manufacturer, is why I went there 8 years ago and why I won’t go anywhere else.”