Hearing loss is generally accepted as just another part of getting older: as we grow older, we begin to hear things a little less distinctly. Perhaps we need to keep asking the grandkids to speak up when they talk, or we have to start turning the volume up on the TV, or maybe…we begin to…where was I going with this…oh yes. Perhaps we begin to forget things.
The general population has a far lower rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s than the older population. That’s why loss of memory is considered a neutral part of aging. But could it be that the two are connected somehow? And, even better, what if there was a way to manage hearing loss and also preserve your memories and mental health?
Cognitive Decline And Hearing Loss
With almost 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, the connection is very clear if you look in the right direction: research has shown that there is a serious risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-like conditions if you also suffer from hearing loss – even at fairly low levels of hearing loss.
Mental health problems like depression and anxiety are also quite prevalent in people who have hearing loss. Your ability to socialize can be significantly impacted by hearing loss, cognitive decline, and other mental health issues and that’s the real key here.
Why Does Hearing Loss Affect Cognitive Decline?
While there are no concrete findings or definitive proof that hearing loss results in cognitive decline and mental health problems, there is obviously some link and several clues that experts are looking into. There are two primary situations they have identified that they think contribute to problems: inability to socialize and your brain working extra time.
research has shown that loneliness goes hand in hand with depression and anxiety. And people are not as likely to socialize when they are dealing with hearing loss. Lots of people can’t enjoy events like attending a movie because they find it too hard to hear the dialog. People who are in this scenario tend to begin to isolate themselves which can lead to mental health concerns.
Additionally, researchers have found that the brain often has to work extra hard to make up for the the ears not hearing as well as they normally would. The part of the brain that’s responsible for understanding sounds, like voices in a conversation, demands more help from other regions of the brain – namely, the part of the brain that used for memory. This causes cognitive decline to occur a lot faster than it normally would.
How to Avoid Cognitive Decline Using Hearing Aids
Hearing aids are our first line of defense against cognitive decline, mental health issues, and dementia. Research has shown that patients increased their cognitive functions and had a decreased rate of dementia when they used hearing aids to fight their hearing loss.
In fact, we would likely see less instances of dementia and cognitive decline if more people actually wore hearing aids. Between 15% and 30% of people who require hearing aids actually use them, which makes up between 4.5 million and 9 million people. The World Health Organization estimates that there are nearly 50 million individuals who have some kind 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.