Hearing loss is commonly accepted as just another part of the aging process: we start to hear things less intelligibly as we grow older. Perhaps we start turning the volume up on the TV, or keep asking our grandkids to speak up when they’re talking to us, or perhaps…we start…what was I going to say…oh yes. Maybe we begin to forget things.
The general population has a far lower rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s than the elderly population. That’s why loss of memory is considered a neutral part of aging. But is it possible that the two are somehow connected? And, better yet, what if there were a way to treat hearing loss and also protect your memories and your mental health?
Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline
With about 30 million individuals in the United States suffering from hearing loss, cognitive decline and dementia, for most of them, isn’t linked to hearing loss. However, the connection is very clear if you look in the right places: if you suffer from hearing loss, there is considerable risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, according to numerous studies – even at relatively low levels of hearing impairment.
Mental health issues including anxiety and depression are also pretty prevalent in people who suffer from hearing loss. The key here is that hearing loss, mental health problems, and cognitive decline all have an impact on our ability to socialize.
Why is Cognitive Decline Linked to Hearing Loss?
While cognitive decline and mental health problems haven’t been definitively proven to be connected to hearing loss, there is clearly some link and several clues that experts are looking at. They have identified two main situations which appear to lead to issues: inability to socialize and your brain working extra time.
research has shown that loneliness goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression. And when people suffer from hearing loss, they’re less likely to socialize with others. Many people find that it’s too difficult to have conversations or can’t hear well enough to enjoy activities like going to the movies. People who are in this scenario tend to begin to isolate themselves which can lead to mental health issues.
In addition, researchers have found that the brain often has to work extra hard to make up for the fact that the ears don’t hear as well as they normally would. The part of the brain that’s in charge of comprehending sounds, like voices in a conversation, demands more help from other parts of the brain – specifically, the area of the brain that used for memory. This overtaxes the brain and leads to the onset of cognitive decline much quicker than if the brain could process sounds correctly.
Wearing Hearing Aids to Stop Cognitive Decline
Hearing aids are our first line of defense against cognitive decline, mental health concerns, and dementia. Research shows that patients improved their cognitive functions and had a decreased rate of dementia when they managed their hearing loss with hearing aids.
In fact, if more people wore their hearing aids, we might see fewer cases of mental health problems and cognitive decline. Between 15% and 30% of people who require hearing aids actually use them, which makes up between 4.5 million and 9 million people. It’s estimated by the World Health Organization that there are close to 50 million people who suffer from some kind of dementia. If hearing aids can lessen that figure by even just a couple of million people, the quality of life for lots of individuals and families will improve exponentially.