Am I ‘Losing It?’ - The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Am I ‘Losing It?’ - The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Are these familiar, recent or current scenarios?

  • It seems people are speaking faster and it may be taking longer to process the conversation
  • You can’t remember names or places and are mixing up times and dates
  • You can hear, but not necessarily understand
  • When you are more focused, you are able to hear better
  • You are more distracted by outside or unwanted sounds than you used to be

You may be asking yourself if these situations and experiences are related to attention or hearing loss. Is there a link between dementia and hearing loss?

The Latest Research on Dementia and Hearing Loss

We begin experiencing hearing loss in our twenties. For many in our 50-60’s, we are more aware and work harder to be an active participant in conversation, especially in a noisy restaurant. At this point, we most likely have a mild hearing loss. This loss is probably not impacting our daily communication significantly, but it is changing our brains. 

A mild hearing loss causes:

  • A slowing of our processing of speech 
  • A decrease in our ability to remember what has been said and 
  • More difficulty distinguishing soft speech sounds 

The link between dementia and hearing loss has now been well researched.  

  • A mild hearing loss has been linked to a 1.8x greater risk of dementia 
  • A moderate hearing loss has been linked to a 3.9 x greater risk of dementia 
  • A severe hearing loss has been linked to a 5x greater risk of dementia 

*Note, most hearing losses are moderate when the patient determines for themselves that they need a hearing test! 

The greater the hearing loss, the more compromised is the signal that is reaching the higher areas of the brain. When there is a lack of stimulation to these auditory areas, other areas of the brain step in to lend a hand. These other areas are needed for memory, processing and other essential tasks that we take for granted. What essentially happens is the processing slows down. We have to “fill in” for missing gaps of information and this can be exhausting.

You may have noticed this effort. It becomes more difficult to stay focused and more effort is required to be a part of a conversation. Pretty soon it is just too difficult to keep up. This is when we sit back and let others talk and we give up. We think, “if I could just focus better.” Have you ever considered that it may be your hearing? 

And the good news?

A study for ‘Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care’ identified 9 risk factors that are linked to dementia. 

  1. High blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, Obesity - combined 4%
  2. Lack of exercise - 2.6%
  3. Lack of social contact - 2.3% 
  4. Depression - 4% 
  5. Smoking - 5.5% 
  6. Less education - 7.5% 
  7. Hearing loss - 9.1%

The great news is that hearing loss is the greatest contributor of modifiable factors of the risk of dementia that we can change. As Doctors of Audiology at The Hearing Solution, this is great news! We are not powerless! 

What can hearing aids do? 

Can wearing hearing aids slowly decrease my risk of experiencing dementia? 

Hearing aids are programmed to deliver the sound to your ears and brain that you are not hearing. The hearing aids are programmed to make the soft sounds of speech available to your brain and therefore decrease the decoding that is happening. 

When this occurs, it is easier to keep up with conversation. We are able to participate again with ease and confidence, not having to ‘decode’ and can just listen. We can jump into any conversation with the assurance that we are not going to have to pretend that we have heard or smile inappropriately! 

If you are curious about your lack of attention or hearing loss lately, please call us at (916) 646-2471 to schedule a consultation for a hearing evaluation.

Interested in learning more? Attend one of our regular hearing solution events to learn more about our unique approach to hearing loss or give us a call at 916-646-2471.

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