This study was published in JAMA Open Access last month and is one of the largest rigorous population based studies on the topic. This research comes on the heels of other mounting evidence that hearing loss can worsen or promote dementia.
A recent study of over 16,000 adults found that hearing loss was positively correlated to the development of dementia in adults. The 45-64 year age group was the most strongly impacted showing a more than DOUBLE RISK of dementia if there was significant untreated hearing decline noted. The study took great care to account for differences in gender, normal age changes, and socioeconomic level.
What does this mean? It is becoming clear that hearing screening should occur at earlier ages, that hearing complaints should be taken more seriously by healthcare gatekeepers (primary care) and that more aggressive auditory rehabilitation is indicated.
The mechanisms of cognitive decline and hearing change are not well understood. In a simplistic form, we use a hearing test called “word discrimination” that we know seems to worsen with cognitive decline and can radpily decline when the ears are not being stimulated. In other words, if we are not hearing well we are not stimulating parts of our brain, and our brain cells do poorly when not stimulated – ‘USE IT OR LOSE IT’.
Our audiologists and associated physicians are all up-to-speed on cognitive risks of early hearing loss and untreated hearing loss. Middle-aged professionals will notice loss early as their daily communication is impacted, finding increased distractibility (reduced focus) at work. This can cause secondary stress.