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.
Hearing Health and Prevention of Cognitive Decline
Hearing isn’t quite like riding a bike
Studies have shown that, on average, people will wait eight to ten years between first experiencing symptoms of hearing loss and finally seeking help. Unfortunately, during this timeframe, people fall into coping mechanisms. They ask people to repeat themselves, turn the TV up louder, or avoid places where hearing is more challenging. These behaviors are actually exacerbating the negative effects. That’s why early intervention is always recommended.
Early intervention prevents your brain from forgetting what to do
The ability to make instant association depends on repeatedly hearing a word. If you do not hear a word for a long period of time, difficulty connecting the sound to its meaning occurs. Over time, reduced stimulation to the brain can impair its ability to process sound and recognize speech. Once speech recognition deteriorates, it is only partially recoverable with hearing aids.
Early intervention slows cognitive decline and communication problems
Not being able to hear what’s going on around you contributes to reduced mental sharpness and communication abilities.
Early intervention improves the use of hearing aids
The earlier people begin to use hearing aids, the sooner they get comfortable wearing them, and the easier it is to maximize their advantage.
Take action this Better Hearing Month
Next month is Better Hearing Month — meaning now is a great time to be proactive about your hearing loss and seek treatment before its negative effects get worse. To arrange for a free hearing consultation, contact us by filling out our Contact Us page and we will be in touch to schedule your free appointment.