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Untreated Hearing Loss And Alzheimer’s

Impacts Of Untreated Hearing Loss

How is hearing loss linked to dementia?

Many people are aware theyre suffering from hearing loss, but find it difficult to get help. Those who have been diagnosed with hearing loss wait, on average, seven years before seeking treatment. The reasons for waiting on help vary some are frustrated by hearing loss, believing it to be a sign of aging. Others think their condition isnt that severe or may not even realize they have hearing problems.

Unfortunately, allowing hearing loss to remain untreated can lead to some serious consequences. The most recent studies highlight the social, psychological, cognitive and health effects of untreated hearing loss. These effects can vary as well, but all have serious impacts on your quality of life.

Reducing The Risk Of Dementia

In 2020, a report by the Lancet Commission, entitled Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care, found that there are 12 modifiable risk factors from childhood through late in life that could delay or prevent 40% of dementia cases. These lifestyle factors can be adjusted to reduce one’s risk of developing dementia. These modifiable risk factors include:

Among these 12 risk factors, untreated hearing loss in midlife is the largest modifiable risk factor for dementia. The dementia risk varies based on the level of hearing loss.

  • Mild hearing loss doubles the risk of dementia
  • Moderate hearing loss triples the risk
  • Severe hearing impairment increases dementia risk by up to 5 times that of those who do not have hearing impairment4

The study recommends the use of hearing aids for those with hearing loss to help protect against cognitive decline. Hearing aids support your brain function by helping you to process sounds that stimulate the brain.

HearingLife’s hearing care experts can provide you with a complimentary hearing assessment* and personalized, custom solutions to meet your hearing and budgetary needs.

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Can Hearing Aids Prevent Dementia

The answer is unclear. The current body of evidence only shows a correlation between hearing loss and increased risk of dementia. What we do know is that early amplification improves overall quality of life and helps maintain social engagement, both associated with improved cognitive abilities. Providing access to sounds helps keep your brain active!

As the global population ages there is an increased focus on the link between hearing loss and dementia. Patients should team up with their audiologists to consider how hearing loss may impact their overall cognitive health and quality of life. Schedule an appointment today if you or your loved one is showing signs of memory loss. Hearing loss can often mimic the early stages of cognitive decline and should be ruled out during cognitive assessment.

Ways To Improve Your Brain Health

Hearing Loss

As you age, whether you have hearing loss or not, your cognitive abilities tend to have a natural decline. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce the severity of the decline and make small improvements along the way.

1. Keep your mind active

You can keep learning throughout your life no matter how far you went in school. Studies show a lower risk of dementia if your level of education is high school or better. But studies also show that if you can maintain an 8th-grade level of reading or literacy throughout your life, it will help keep your mind stay active, says Dr. Factora. You can also engage in hobbies that help keep you learning or challenged.

You may enjoy playing board games, ballroom dancing, playing a musical instrument or learning a foreign language. Any new activity that forces you to learn and increase your skill over time develops new neural connections in your brain.

These healthy new neural connections may help you bypass any damage to the brain associated with dementia or Alzheimers disease, Dr. Factora explains.

2. Maintain a good social network

Social connections help keep your brain healthy as you age. So its important to maintain good relationships with friends and family.

If youre constantly engaged in a give-and-take conversation and are around a lot of people, that stimulation will have a positive effect on your brain health, encourages Dr. Factora.

3. Exercise regularly

4. Stick to a Mediterranean diet

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Hearing Loss As A Risk Factor For Dementia

There is strong evidence to show that:

  • mild hearing loss doubles the risk of developing dementia
  • moderate hearing loss leads to three times the risk
  • severe hearing loss increases the risk five times.

But can steps be taken to reduce or avoid this risk? An international review in medical journal The Lancet, published in 2017, suggested that hearing loss is one of nine key risk factors for dementia that are possibly modifiable .The review suggested that one in three cases of dementia could be prevented if more people looked after their health throughout their lives. Other key risk factors for dementia include social isolation, smoking and depression.

Unaddressed hearing loss in mid-life was predicted to be the highest potentially modifiable risk factor for developing dementia. This is hugely important. Can addressing hearing loss for example, by using hearing aids reduce this risk? Its vital we find out.

Can Hearing Aids Help Prevent Dementia

Hearing loss is the third most common health condition affecting older adults, occurring in one-third of people over age 65 and in two-thirds of those over age 70 . It has been identified as one of the top potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care . Although studies suggest that restoring auditory input may help protect cognitive function and improve quality of life , hearing aids are expensive. There are several factors to consider when determining how to cope with hearing loss.

WHAT THE EVIDENCE SAYS

Mild hearing loss is associated with two-fold greater risk for dementia, while severe hearing loss is associated with 5 times greater risk over 10 years . Several longitudinal studies have found that the rate of cognitive decline is accelerated in dementia patients with hearing loss . Participants with hearing loss experienced rates of cognitive decline that were 30-50% faster than those with normal hearing .

A recent study following over 1,000 participants in the Rancho Bernardo Study of Healthy Aging for up to 24 years found that hearing impairment was associated with faster age-related declines in global and executive cognitive function . The cognitive decline associated with mild hearing loss was reduced in individuals who attained higher education, but education could not protect against declines associated with moderate to severe hearing loss.

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

Cost:

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What Research On Dementia And Hearing Loss Reveals

Most recently, a study published in July 2021 found that people who struggle to hear speech in noise were more likely to develop dementia than those with normal hearing, as measured over an 11-year period. This was the first time that speech in noise was specifically studied. However, the study wasn’t capable of determining if untreated hearing loss caused the dementia, only that they’re linked.

In a different study, a team at Johns Hopkins looked at cognitive impairment scores over six years for nearly 2,000 seniors. They concluded that those with hearing loss had a faster decline. The volunteers were all cognitively normal when the research began. But by the studys end, people with hearing loss were 24 percent more likely to meet the standard of cognitive impairment compared to people with normal hearing.

Another approach is to ask people whether theyve noticed a change. Measures of subjective decline can pick up losses before theyll show up on a test. A large studyusing data drawn from more than 10,000 men age 62 and upran over eight years. It found that the greater their hearing loss, the more likely men were to express concerns about their memory or thinking over time. With even a mild hearing loss, their chance of reporting cognitive decline was 30 percent higher than among those who did not report any hearing loss. With moderate or severe hearing loss, the risk was 42 and 52 percent higher.

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Hearing Loss As A Risk Factor

This is your brain with untreated hearing loss #shorts

A recent study in Taiwan identified a link between hearing loss in middle age and cognitive decline and dementia in later years. The study involved more than 16,000 individuals, concluding that a hearing loss diagnosis between the ages of 45 and 65 more than doubled the odds of a dementia diagnosis later in life. This aligns with past research suggesting that up to one-third of dementia risk factors are from modifiable lifestyle changes. Surprisingly, the research also found that hearing loss accounts for a greater proportion of dementia risk factors than obesity, depression, diabetes, and even smoking.

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Mechanism : Increased Cognitive Resources Needed For Listening

A third mechanism is based on the idea that people with hearing impairment use greater cognitive resources for listening, making these resources unavailable for other aspects of higher cognition when they are âoccupiedâ during listening. âResourcesâ refers here to the means for cognitive tasks such as attention , working memory , or language processing . There is debate about how cognitive resources are allocated, and the corresponding neural bases. With respect to working memory, for example, there is a question about the extent to which resources may be specifically allocated to objects or represent a distributed resource . Further debate concerns the extent to which working memory resources reflect neuronal or synaptic mechanisms, or both . What is important here, however, is that there is a fixed capacity for many general cognitive operations. These resources may be absorbed when listening becomes challenging, reducing their availability for other aspects of cognition.

Mechanisms 2 and 3 may at first appear at odds: in mechanism 2, the problem is the decreased stimulation of auditory cognitive networks, while in mechanism 3, there is increased stimulation. The critical difference is that mechanism 2 leads to changes in neuronal mechanisms and brain structure before the onset of dementia, causing an increased risk of subsequent dementia, while mechanism 3 is based on changes in brain activity during dementia that may explain the cognitive deficits.

There Is A Link Between Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline

If avoiding dementia and Alzheimers disease is on your list of aging goals, heres something to remember: research has shown that untreated hearing loss increases the risk of dementia by 50 percent!

That means hearing loss and how we deal with it plays a big role in our ability to stay mentally sharp as we age.

Researchers admit the science remains inconclusive on exactly why untreated hearing loss increases dementia and Alzheimers risks, but they do offer three probable theories.

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Can Treating Hearing Loss Help Keep Our Brains Sharp

The big question, then, is can treating hearing loss prevent cognitive decline? No research has proven that yet though Johns Hopkins University is currently undergoing a controlled trial but two studies strongly suggest it may help.

A 2015 study followed subjects over a 25 year period and found that those with self-reported hearing loss who did not wear hearing aids showed evidence of accelerated cognitive decline, while those with hearing loss who did wear hearing aids had no more cognitive decline than their normal-hearing peers.

A 2017 study was equally promising. The study, conducted by The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care, concluded that managing or treating hearing loss in mid-life is one of 12 things you can do to help prevent dementia. And more importantly was the number one risk factor you could modify to reduce the incidence of dementia or substantially delay its onset.

In fact, researchers suggest that hearing loss treatment could prevent up to 9 percent of the 47 million dementia cases in the world.

Promoting Alzheimers Disease Awareness Early Diagnosis And Hearing Checks

Untreated hearing loss increases the risk of dementia and depression ...

Accurate Hearing is joining the Better Hearing Institute , a member of the Alzheimers Association Early Detection Alliance , in urging caregivers to address hearing loss in people with Alzheimers and to pay attention to their hearing health. Accurate Hearing will be raising awareness of Alzheimers disease, the importance of early diagnosis, the relationship between Alzheimers and hearing loss, and the importance of addressing hearing loss in people with Alzheimers.

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Is There A Link Between Hearing Loss And Dementia

Untreated hearing loss increases the risk for dementia . Adults with hearing loss have a faster rate of cognitive decline that adults with normal hearing . Hearing loss demands extra cognitive resources, which limits the cognitive resources that are available for memory and thinking. There are also documented changes in the brain as a result of hearing loss these changes are thought to impact cognition over time. Additionally, hearing loss can lead to a decrease in social engagement , which is a known risk factor of dementia. Although hearing loss does not cause dementia, it does place people at risk for developing dementia a supportive reason that hearing loss should not be ignored.

Many communication difficulties related to hearing loss can cross-over with difficulties related to dementia. If adults are uncertain which dysfunction may be causing difficulties, it is recommended to seek evaluation from an audiologist and a physician. A primary care physician can help patients determine if a cognitive evaluation is necessary and refer to the correct specialist for testing.

The Challenges Of Multiple Potential Pathways

Multiple potential pathways area likely involved in the association between hearing and dementia, but with unknown understanding of the specific contribution of each pathway and if this contribution varies by the individual. While common risk factors are thought to contribute toward the association , these factors likely do not explain the full story. Even in large epidemiologic studies which have attempted to control for these additional factors, the association persists, suggesting additional pathways are likely involved but have yet to be differentiated.

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What Can You Do

If you want try to lower your chances of hearing loss as you age, try to keep your heart healthy, protect your hearing from loud noises, and donât smoke.

âSmoking is a big risk factor for sensory loss — vision and hearing,â says Heather Whitson, MD, at Duke Health.

Even when they take precautions, some people are simply more likely to get hearing loss in older age. In those cases, can using hearing aids protect you from dementia?

âThatâs the billion-dollar question,â Lin says.

Lin is leading a 5-year clinical trial studying 850 people to see if hearing aids can cut dementia.

Even without the proof, Lin says thereâs no downside to using hearing aids. In fact, thereâs often a big upside to getting help for your hearing loss.

âWith a very simple intervention, we could make a big difference improving quality of life,â Lin said.

In a pilot study, people with dementia started wearing inexpensive, over-the-counter devices to boost their hearing. A month later, their caregivers reported improved communication, more laughter, and more storytelling.

âIf youâre an older adult with hearing loss, it would make sense to treat that hearing loss,â says Richard Gurgel, MD, of the University of Utah.

If you think your hearing has gotten worse with age, Gurgel recommends a hearing screening. The relatively quick, painless test can help you notice how your hearing changes as you get older and if a hearing aid would help you.

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Misdiagnosis And Further Links

How does hearing loss affect mental sharpness?

Hearing loss can sometimes be misdiagnosed as dementia. People with dementia can have difficulty communicating with others, including finding the right words, or signs, for what they want to say. They may have difficulty processing what theyve heard, particularly if there are distractions. According to some researchers, this difficulty in processing information can be one of the first signs of cognitive impairment.

We also know that hearing loss can speed up the onset of dementia, or make the symptoms of dementia appear worse, and dementia can heighten the impact of hearing loss.

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Hearing Aids Can Help Prevent Dementia

Numerous studies show that hearing aids not only improve a persons hearingthey also help preserve a persons independence, mental abilities, emotional and physical health, and work, home, and social lives. A full, happy life keeps your brain active.

Early identification and treatment of a potential hearing loss helps minimize risks later in life.

Hearing Loss And Memory Loss

There is increasing evidence of a connection between hearing loss and memory loss. One recent study found that mild hearing loss doubled the risk of dementia, moderate loss tripled the risk, and people with severe hearing loss were 5 times more likely to develop dementia than those without hearing loss.

Another review of studies evaluating the link between hearing loss and dementia found a connection as well. Although each of the studies used different evaluation methods, they found that hearing loss is clearly associated with a higher incidence of dementia in older adults.

Dementia is a term used to describe the decline of memory, problem-solving, language, and other cognitive abilities. These can become so severe that they interfere with daily life. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

Some symptoms of dementia include:

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Difficulty remembering appointments and tasks
  • Wandering off in thought and not remembering why
  • Forgetting to plan or eat meals
  • Forgetting to pay bills

Some experts believe that hearing loss may lead to memory loss or other cognitive issues due to reduced activity and degeneration of the brain’s auditory centers.

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