The Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia: Can Hearing Aids can Reduce the Risk?

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The term hearing loss is used to define a range of hearing impairments from mild to severe which can be experienced by people of all ages. However, hearing loss is more pronounced in the older population and is primarily caused by age-related damage to the cochlea. It is, in fact, one of the most common disorders and impacts a large section of the ageing population. The symptoms of hearing loss start gradually, and it may even take years for the condition to be diagnosed. Characterized by the loss of receptor cells in the ear, hearing loss occurs when the neural connections from the ear to the brain are hindered. Often undiagnosed, hearing impairment has been proven to adversely affect an individual’s cognitive ability. As such, hearing loss cannot be considered as an inconsequential part of ageing. Interventions such as hearing aids are proving to 1) play an important part in keeping the neural connections active; and 2) possibly slowing down cognitive decline in the ageing process.

Hearing loss has a significant impact on the quality of life and often leads to feelings of isolation. With a decline in the ability to hear clearly, several aspects of life including social relationships and motor skills are negatively affected. Besides, several research studies indicate a close link between hearing loss and dementia. In fact, the ground-breaking research by Dr Lin and his team at Johns Hopkins Medical Center indicates that hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia by as much as 200-500%. The results of the research put forth grounds for suggesting that hearing loss and dementia are associated.

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Hearing Loss and Dementia:

There exists a complex relationship between hearing loss and dementia and studies attribute several factors for increasing the risk of dementia in individuals suffering from hearing loss.

Social Isolation:

People suffering from hearing impairment have the tendency to withdraw from social situations. Such feelings emerge from the fear of making mistakes while communicating, embarrassment or the fear of not being a part of the conversation. Social isolation is a negative emotional response arising from a decline in social connections. Over time, the quality of relationships is damaged due to the frustration caused by the difficulty in communication. Such a form of retreat from social circles is even noticed in individuals suffering from mild hearing loss. Besides, people with impaired hearing engage in lesser physical activity. It has been suggested that social isolation and less physical activity are both risk factors for dementia.

Cerebral Atrophy:

Studies conducted with advanced brain imaging technique demonstrate that hearing loss is linked to increased brain atrophy. There exists a link between the loss of neurons, shrinking brain and dementia. A significant decline in cerebral volume occurs in the areas involved in speech, language, memory and hearing.

The Strain Caused by Hearing Loss:

Hearing loss is a common problem faced by the ageing population. However, it is critical to treat the problem as it impacts brain health. With a reduced hearing ability, the brain constantly struggles to follow conversations and fill the missing gaps. The brain spends more energy in trying to hear conversations. This burdens the brain and such excess strain is believed to be a risk factor for developing dementia.

Reducing the Risk of Developing Dementia:

Hearing loss if left untreated can pose several risks. The increased mental effort required for understanding a speech has an impact on the cognitive abilities and strains the brain. Besides, individuals suffering from hearing loss also find it challenging to access health and everyday services due to difficulty in communication and making the right adjustments. As the society ages, the number of people dealing with this problem is set to grow. This implies that detection and treatment need to be prioritised. With the right treatment methods, it is possible to reduce the risk of dementia and improve the quality of life.

To measure the improvement in core cognitive functions following hearing loss treatment, researchers conducted a study. The results indicated that within a span of two weeks, there was a significant improvement in the scores for recalling words and the processing speed by which the participants chose a response. Towards the end of the study, a remarkable improvement in the cognitive functions was noticed. Following this, several studies have revealed that effectively treating hearing loss can reduce the risk of dementia.

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The Role of Hearing Aids:

Early diagnosis is crucial as it can enable people to come in terms with their hearing loss and get used to using hearing aids. With timely intervention, individuals can be helped before they withdraw socially and get used to a quiet world. In this regard, there is much evidence to suggest the positive role of hearing aids. Hearing aids not only offer immediate benefits by enabling people to hear better but can mitigate a range of negative impacts resulting from hearing loss. Individuals who do not make use of hearing aids have a higher probability of reporting sadness, anxiety, feelings of insecurity, emotional stress and lower social activity.

The benefits of hearing aids may include the following:

• Better mental health
• Reduced loneliness
• A lower risk of cognitive decline

With hearing aids, it is possible for people to actively participate in social and group activities than non-users. The use of hearing aids has also helped to improve the emotional, social and psychological well-being of people. Moreover, even though precise links have not been established, there is evidence that the use of hearing aids can decrease the deterioration of cognitive functions.

Hearing aids clearly offer a range of benefits. However, individuals are often reluctant to use hearing aids. This arises from concerns related to comfort, maintenance and usability. Problems related to fit and sound levels can also make users feel uncomfortable. However, with the right device, you can make the most of your hearing aid and experience it wide benefits.

If you are looking for a reliable audiology service in Melbourne, Active Audiology has the best to offer. With our years of experience, we can help you select the right hearing aid and set it up based on your personal hearing profile. The hearing aid offered by us is based solely on your needs and programmed perfectly for you. If you wish to know more about our hearing aids, feel free to reach out to our team. You can call us on 1300 364 007. We will be happy to assist you.

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