Hearing Loss and Dementia: What the Studies Are Telling Us

It’s pretty much a given that as we age, we experience some hearing loss. That’s because changes occur in our middle and inner ears over time. Hearing loss also stem from various medical conditions we may be experiencing.

Today, it is said that hearing loss often begins in one’s forties, and by the time adults reach 70, it affects about two out of three. That said, only about 15% of those adults affected by hearing loss seek help, namely get hearing aids. What they may not realize is that by improving their hearing fitness they may also be reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias.

This was confirmed by a new study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published this January in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). By calling attention to the connection between hearing loss and dementia, “we can build support for public health action to improve hearing care access,” noted Alison Huang, PhD, MPH, a senior researcher on the project.

Likewise, the National Institute on Aging explains in a report they issued that “hearing loss makes the brain work harder, forcing it to strain to hear and fill in information gaps. That comes at the expense of other thinking and memory systems.”

Social Isolation

When an aging brain is stressed in that way, it can cause people to be less socially engaged and intellectually stimulated. And that can lead to social isolation and trouble.

“We’ve seen that when people have hearing loss and do not wear hearing aids, they tend to become more uncomfortable in social situations,” says Dr. Francis Walsh, Medical Director at Nathaniel Witherell. “That, in turn, can lead to loss of engagement with others and interest in participating in stimulating activities. So, it’s important to be vigilant as we do not want to increase anyone’s risk factors for dementia.”

It is also why the Witherell’s medical team routinely checks for significant changes, including changes in hearing, when conducting resident assessments.

Even with the latest findings, research into the link between hearing loss and dementia is still going on. While we wait for definitive answers, it might be prudent to check for hearing loss and to respond to it sooner, rather than later.

Check Your “Hearing Number”

A good first step is to check your “Hearing Number.” In other words, find out how loud someone’s speech has to be before you can actually hear it. The measurement range is 0 to 100 decibels (dB). The higher your hearing number, the louder sounds will have to be before you can hear them.

According to hearingnumber.org, a mild Hearing Number ranges between 20 and 34; moderate ranges between 34 and 49; moderately severe ranges from 50 to 64; severe is over 65. Ask your physician to recommend an otolaryngologist, also called an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician, to help you determine your Hearing Number. Then keep track of it over time.

“Hearing is important for healthy aging,” Dr. Walsh notes. “If you stay on top of your hearing fitness, you’ll avoid potential problems down the line. Today, hearing aids are vastly improved and virtually impossible to see.”

For further information about the Witherell’s Memory Care services, please click here and/or call 203-618-4200.

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