Written by Dr. Jocelyn Doré
Recent research has found that hearing loss and cognitive decline are linked. In the field of audiology, we have long suspected that there was a link between hearing loss and loss of mental acuity, however studies from Johns Hopkins have revealed concrete evidence that supports these suspicions.
The study monitored 639 adults for over 10 years. Johns Hopkins researcher Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues found that patients with mild hearing loss had twice the dementia risk. Moderate hearing loss resulted in triple the risk, and people with a severe hearing loss were five times more likely to develop dementia.
The research concludes, “Our results demonstrate that hearing loss is independently associated with accelerated cognitive decline and incident cognitive impairment in community-dwelling older adults. The magnitude of these associations is clinically-significant with individuals with hearing loss having a 30–40% accelerated rate of cognitive decline and a 24% increased risk of incident cognitive impairment over a 6 year period compared to individuals with normal hearing.”
The cause of the cognitive impairment is still being investigated. One idea is that hearing loss causes a reduction in “incidental language exposure.” Even when we are walking alone through a store, we are bathed in language from those speaking around us. But when we have hearing loss, that exposure to language is reduced. Some theories suggest that this lack of stimulation contributes to reduced mental acuity. Another theory is that, as hearing gets worse, it takes more effort to keep up with complex listening environments. Some people start to avoid those difficult listening situations because it doesn’t feel “worth” the effort. This social isolation may be a cause of cognitive decline. Unfortunately, living or interacting with someone with hearing loss can also be a very frustrating experience. Sometimes friends and family members avoid initiating conversations with a hearing impaired person because “they aren’t going to hear me anyway.” This further limits a person’s social interaction and exposure to language.
As audiologists, we strongly recommend that patients pursue hearing aids as early as they feel ready. Patients with mild hearing loss can start to experience subtle struggles in troublesome listening environments, and wearing hearing aids can enhance speech and reduce noise to create an easier hearing experience. It is also easier to get used to hearing aids when a patient is younger and some of their hearing is still intact. As one grows older, it gets more and more difficult to acclimate to new stimulation. Furthermore, as hearing loss worsens over time, a patient gets accustomed to hearing less and less of their environment. This makes it somewhat more difficult to adapt to the stimulation of new hearing aids. Therefore pursuing hearing aids earlier in age and progression of hearing loss makes the transition easier.
Of course, we see older adults with severe hearing loss pursue their first set of hearing aids regularly. For these patients we program the hearing aids in such a way as to help make their adaptation as easy and seamless as possible. We encourage patients to wear their hearing aids as much as possible to help the brain get used to the new stimulation.
It is always time to get a baseline hearing test. Though the jury is still out on how much of a role hearing loss plays in the development of dementia specifically, there is no question of its effect on overall cognitive ability. “Catching it early” and making the appropriate accommodations could help one to slow down a gradual decline in their mental faculties and afford a relatively smooth introduction into the world of hearing aid technology–a transition which, for many, is an inevitable reality.
Patients who come to Advanced Specialty Care for their hearing aids receive evaluations and care far more comprehensive than is possible from “big-box,” or over-the-counter dispensers. Your hearing is too precious to trust to just anyone, and the Doctors of Audiology at Advanced Specialty Care don’t take any one-size-fits-all approaches–collaborating with ASC Ear, Nose & Throat Physicians to ensure that patients receive the personalized clinical care which they require, and not just what we’re able to offer them.
To book time with one of the Doctors of Audiology at Advanced Specialty Care, with offices conveniently located in Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk & Ridgefield, CT, call us or request your appointment today.
ADVANCED SPECIALTY CARE
At Advanced Specialty Care, our Clinical Audiologists do more than ensure you hear well – we focus on your total hearing health. Our affiliation with ASC’s Ear, Nose & Throat specialists ensures a comprehensive approach to healthy hearing, offering state-of-the-art instrument technology and qualified professionals. To schedule an appointment with one of our Audiology specialists at any of our convenient office locations in Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk and Ridgefield, CT, call us or request your appointment today.