For many years, researchers have been studying the link between people aging with and without hearing loss and people aging with dementia. Although there is still no clear cause between the two, the research findings indicate there is a definite connection between those with untreated hearing loss and those with dementia.
While more research is needed to determine why this connection continues to develop, the findings show that the greater the hearing loss, the higher the risk of developing dementia. “Because hearing loss tends to creep up on you slowly over time, many people ignore hearing issues or (realize) the condition has become so severe that they can no longer ignore it,” says Dr. Karen Kantzes, senior audiologist at Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center. “By having your hearing evaluated periodically as you age, your audiologist can watch for signs of hearing loss. Those who address their hearing loss at an earlier stage are more likely to embrace treatment options and thus are more likely to ward off dementia.”
Otologists and geriatricians agree that one possible cause for the link between hearing loss and dementia may be the brain itself, says Kantzes.
“It is already well-known that we ‘hear’ with our brain,” she adds. “The ear collects and transmits sound up the auditory nerve to the brain. However, the brain is responsible for interpreting the sound as a ringing phone, a car horn or our grandchild’s voice, thus giving the sound meaning. If, over time, the brain no longer receives sound because of untreated hearing loss, it may be that the brain loses the ability to identify the meaning of sounds al-
Another potential cause may be the person’s change in lifestyle. Kantzes clarifies, “As hearing loss increases, people tend to withdraw from social interaction. They disconnect from friends, family and activities where they may feel frustrated by their inability to hear and understand what is being said.” This social isolation has been shown to be a factor in developing dementia and other cognitive disorders.
“People who are proactive about their hearing loss have the best chance at continuing their hobbies and lifestyle well into their senior years,” Kantzes says. “Start by developing a relationship with a highly-qualified audiologist and follow his or her recommendations. Your audiologist will advise you on your choices, which may include strategies for coping with difficult listening situations, assistive devices like an amplified telephone, or hearing aids. If hearing aids are recommended, your audiologist can help you determine which type is best for you based on your lifestyle and budget.”