Hearing loss is thought of as a typical part of growing older: as we age, we begin to hear things a little less distinctly. Perhaps we need to keep asking the grandkids to repeat themselves when they talk, or we have to start turning up the volume on the TV, or perhaps…we start…where was I going with this…oh ya. Maybe we start forgetting things.
Memory loss is also often thought to be a normal part of aging because dementia and Alzheimer’s are a lot more prevalent in the older population than the general population at large. But is it possible that the two are connected somehow? And, even better, what if there were a way to treat hearing loss and also protect your memories and mental health?
Cognitive Decline And Hearing Loss
With almost 30 million individuals in the United States suffering from hearing loss, the majority of them do not connect hearing loss with mental decline and dementia. However, the link is quite clear if you look in the right direction: research has shown that there is a significant risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-like ailments if you also suffer from hearing loss – even at fairly low levels of hearing impairment.
Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are also pretty prevalent in people who suffer from hearing loss. The key here is that hearing loss, mental health concerns, and cognitive decline all have an effect on our ability to be social.
Why is Cognitive Decline Linked to Hearing Loss?
While cognitive decline and mental health problems haven’t been definitively proven to be linked to hearing loss, there is clearly some link and several clues that experts are looking into. There are two primary scenarios they have identified that they believe lead to problems: failure to socialize and your brain working overtime.
Many studies show that loneliness results in anxiety and depression. And when people are dealing with hearing loss, they’re not as likely to socialize with other people. Many people can’t enjoy things like attending a movie because they find it too difficult to hear the dialog. People who are in this situation tend to begin to isolate themselves which can lead to mental health concerns.
researchers have also discovered that the brain frequently has to work overtime because the ears aren’t working like they should. The region of the brain which is in control of understanding sounds, such as voices in a conversation, demands more help from other portion of the brain – namely, the part of the brain that keeps our memories intact. This overtaxes the brain and causes cognitive decline to set in much faster than if the brain could process sounds normally.
Wearing Hearing Aids to Stop Cognitive Decline
Hearing aids improve our ability to hear letting the brain to use it’s resources in a normal manner which is our best defense against cognitive decline and dementia. Research has shown that patients improved their cognitive functions and had a lower rate of dementia when they used hearing aids to fight their hearing loss.
In fact, if more people wore their hearing aids, we might see less cases of mental health issues and cognitive decline. Between 15% and 30% of individuals who require hearing aids actually use them, that’s 4.5 to 9 million people. It’s estimated by the World Health Organization that there are almost 50 million individuals who have some form of dementia. If hearing aids can decrease that number by even just a couple of million people, the quality of life for lots of people and families will improve exponentially.