Hearing loss can be a frustrating experience that can negatively impact a person’s quality of life. Almost half of people over 60 have hearing loss. There are concerns that hearing loss could lead to other health problems as well. Research shows hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia, especially for patients 45-64 years old.
This article discusses the link between hearing and memory loss, risk factors, prevention, and when to see a healthcare professional.
Hearing loss and memory loss
There is a growing body of evidence for a link between hearing loss and memory loss. A 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 assessing the link between hearing loss and dementia also found a link. Although each of the studies used different assessment methods, they found that hearing loss is clearly associated with a higher incidence of dementia in older people.
Dementia is a term used to describe the decline in memory, problem solving, language, and other cognitive abilities. These can become so severe that they interfere with everyday life. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s sickness.
Some symptoms of dementia include:
- Short term memory loss
- Difficulty remembering appointments and tasks
- Straying in his thoughts and not remembering why
- Forgetting to plan or eat meals
- Forgetting to pay the bills
Some experts believe that hearing loss can lead to memory loss or other cognitive problems due to reduced activity and degeneration of the brain’s hearing centers.
Alzheimer’s risk factors
Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80% of all dementia cases. It is not a normal part of aging.
Alzheimer’s disease is progressive, which means that it gets worse over time. It may start with mild symptoms, but as it progresses to later stages the condition causes people to become unaware of their surroundings or are unable to carry on a conversation.
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Older age
- Family inheritance
- Have suffered a traumatic brain injury (an injury that causes brain dysfunction)
- Vascular disease (abnormal condition of blood vessels)
- Infection or deficiencies in the immune system
- Environmental stress
Age is a major risk factor
Age is the most important risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Most people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease are over 65. However, it can affect younger people.
Hearing loss that occurs with age is called presbycusis. It is one of the most common health problems that affect people as they age.
The cause of age-related hearing loss is most often due to changes in the inner ear over time. It can also stem from other problems that interfere with the nerve pathways from the ear to the brain.
Some of the more common health problems in older people, such as diabetes, stroke, or high blood pressure, can also contribute to hearing loss.
Hearing loss in the elderly can cause problems such as:
- Difficulty communicating with loved ones, leading to a feeling of isolation
- Cannot hear notifications like doorbells, alarms, or smartphones
- Not understanding the instructions of a health care provider or caregiver
Hearing loss is a major contributor to social isolation in older people. The more severe the hearing loss, the more socially isolated people can feel.
If you or a loved one is experiencing social isolation due to hearing loss, talk to your health care provider about a treatment plan that can help.
Age-related hearing loss is not reversible. But luckily there are treatments such as hearing aids available to improve hearing.
One study identified treatment for hearing loss as a potentially modifiable risk factor for developing dementia. However, it is also possible that people prone to dementia are at higher risk for hearing loss.
Hearing aids are small electronic devices worn in or around the ear. These devices can help people with hearing loss participate more actively in their lives and maintain better social networks.
Most hearing aids contain a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. They allow the hearing impaired to better understand what is happening around them. Unfortunately, many people who could benefit from using hearing aids do not.
The different styles of hearing aids include:
- Behind-the-ear hearing aids (BTE)
- In-ear hearing aids (ITE)
- Root canal hearing aids, which fit inside the ear
Hearing aids can work in one of two ways:
- Analog: This type of aid converts sound waves into electrical signals, which are amplified.
- Digital: This type of hearing aid converts sound waves into digital codes and then amplifies them.
You will need to work with an audiologist (a professional specializing in hearing health) to obtain hearing aids. An audiologist will determine which type is right for you. Things to consider include:
- Your lifestyle
- The type of hearing loss you have
- How serious is your hearing loss
- Whether the hearing loss is in one or both ears
- Cost (hearing aids can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars)
There are many ways to prevent noise-related hearing loss that can contribute to age-related hearing loss. Talk to your healthcare professional about how exposure to loud noise can cause permanent hearing loss and how you can protect your hearing.
Here are some ways to prevent noise-related hearing loss:
- Avoid noisy places.
- Use earplugs or noise-canceling headphones in noisy spaces.
- Watch TV and listen to music at a lower volume.
- Get regular hearing checks.
Some of the risk factors for dementia, such as a family history, are not preventable. However, other lifestyle changes can prevent the onset of dementia.
Here are some ways to reduce the risk of dementia and other cognitive problems:
- Eat healthy
- Stop smoking
- Exercise regularly
- Have good social relations
- Stimulate your brain through reading or other sources such as crosswords
- Prevent head injuries by wearing a seat belt and using a helmet during sport
When to see a health care provider
It is essential to have regular check-ups with your health care provider to monitor your physical and mental health.
If you find that you have trouble understanding people around you, or it seems like people are mumbling their words, you should make an appointment to check your hearing.
You may need to see your health care provider for a referral to an audiologist or otolaryngologist (a doctor who specializes in conditions of the ears, nose and throat). They can do a hearing test and assess the type and severity of the hearing loss.
A growing body of evidence suggests a link between hearing loss and dementia. Some research also suggests that hearing loss is a modifiable risk factor for dementia. Although hearing loss is not reversible in most cases, some treatments, such as hearing aids, can help you hear better and improve communication with those around you.
A word from Verywell
Although it may take some time to feel comfortable wearing a hearing aid, it can dramatically improve your quality of life by increasing your awareness of what is going on around you, improving communication with your friends and family. family and possibly reducing your risk of developing dementia.
Talk to your healthcare professional about ways to prevent noise-related hearing loss, and about lifestyle changes you can make to prevent the onset of dementia. If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test.