Hearing loss is normally accepted as just another part of the aging process: we begin to hear things less clearly as we age. Maybe we need to keep asking the grandkids to speak up when they talk, or we have to turn up the volume on the TV, or perhaps…we start…what was I going to say…oh ya. Perhaps we start forgetting things.
The general population has a much lower rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s than the elderly population. That’s the reason why loss of memory is considered a neutral part of aging. But what if there was a connection between the two? And, better yet, what if there were a way to treat hearing loss and also preserve your memories and mental health?
Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline
With about 30 million individuals in the United States who have hearing loss, mental decline and dementia, for the majority of them, isn’t linked to hearing loss. However, if you look in the right place, the connection is very clear: if you have hearing loss, there is considerable risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, according to many studies – even at fairly low levels of hearing impairment.
Mental health issues including depression and anxiety are also quite prevalent in people who have hearing loss. The key here is that hearing loss, mental health concerns, and cognitive decline all have an impact on our ability to socialize.
Why is Cognitive Decline Connected to Hearing Loss?
While there is no proven finding or definitive evidence that hearing loss results in cognitive decline and mental health problems, there is definitely some connection and several clues that experts are looking at. There are two principal situations they have pinpointed that they think contribute to issues: your brain working harder than it would normally have to and social isolation.
research has shown that loneliness leads to anxiety and depression. And when people are dealing with hearing loss, they’re less likely to socialize with others. Many people find that it’s too difficult to carry on conversations or can’t hear well enough to enjoy activities like the movie theater. These actions lead down a path of isolation, which can lead to mental health issues.
In addition, researchers have found that the brain frequently has to work extra hard because the ears aren’t functioning like they should. When this occurs, other areas of the brain, including the one responsible for memory, are utilized for hearing and comprehending sound. This overtaxes the brain and leads to the onset of cognitive decline much faster than if the brain could process sounds correctly.
How to Avoid Cognitive Decline by Wearing Hearing Aids
Hearing aids restore our ability to hear allowing the brain to use it’s resources in a normal way which is our best defense for dealing with cognitive decline and dementia. Research shows that people improved their cognitive functions and were at a decreased risk for developing dementia when they used hearing aids to deal with their hearing loss.
In fact, we would probably see fewer cases of dementia and cognitive decline if more people actually wore hearing aids. Between 15% and 30% of individuals who need hearing aids even use them, which accounts for between 4.5 million and 9 million people. The World Health Organization estimates that there are nearly 50 million people who deal with some form of dementia. The quality of life will be dramatically enhanced for people and families if hearing aids can lessen that number by just a couple million people.