As you age, hearing loss and dementia become more common. Research shows this isn't just a coincidence. There is a strong connection between hearing loss and dementia, Alzheimer's and other dementias.
The Hearing Loss and Dementia (Alzheimer’s) Connection
Scientists are beginning to find more evidence showing hearing problems increase your risk of developing dementia. This is a condition characterized by memory loss and problems with problem-solving, thinking and other mental tasks. Scientists found an individual's likelihood for mental decline appear to increase the worse their hearing troubles are.
Individuals with severe loss of hearing are five times more likely of developing some type of dementia. Even individuals with only mild hearing loss have twice the chance of developing dementia than those with normal hearing.
Individuals with loss of hearing often feel isolated because it's difficult for them to be social and join in conversations with others. Research has revealed a connection between feeling isolated or lonely and dementia. Therefore, loss of hearing might make mental decline occur quicker than it would otherwise.
When you don't hear well, your brain must work harder in order to process sound. And, this could take resources away it could use for other activities.
Your hearing nerves won't send as many signals to your brain if your ears can't pick as many sounds up. This could lead to your brain declining.
All three are likely combined, according to one researcher who has studied a lot about the link between the conditions.
Over the past several years, Johns Hopkin’s researchers conducted studies to see how hearing loss could have an influence on cognitive decline. They met with numerous seniors in each case over a few years, tracking who developed Alzheimer’s and the speed at which the condition progressed.
In one study, individuals with loss of hearing were 24 percent more likely of having Alzheimer’s.
In a study in 2013, the researchers and his team monitored the overall cognitive abilities of almost 2,000 individuals around the average age of 77. These abilities included:
After six years, the individuals who started the study with loss of hearing serious enough it interfered with conversation had a 24 percent more likelihood of their cognitive abilities diminishing than those with normal hearing. Basically, loss of hearing seemed to quicken age-related cognitive decline, according to the researchers.
In a study in 2011 that focused on dementia, researchers tracked the cognitive health of 639 mentally sharp individuals. They tested their mental abilities on a regular basis (12 years for some, 18 years for others). They found striking results. The worse the individuals' initial loss of hearing was, the higher the risk of them developing dementia. When compared with individuals of normal hearing, the people with moderate loss of hearing had triple the risk.
The researchers were quick to say that because you're at a higher risk doesn't necessarily mean you'll definitely develop dementia.
Fortunately, there is a possible upside. If this link between hearing loss and dementia holds up, it increases the possibility that more aggressive hearing loss treatment could help prevent dementia and cognitive decline.
When You Should Have Your Hearing Checked
Some individuals ignore the hearing loss signs or they simply think it's related to aging and just deal with it. However, loss of hearing can impact your life in various ways, so it's important you talk with your doctor if you think you're at risk.
Request an audiology evaluation so the doctor can determine how severe your hearing loss is. If your doctor gives you a solution such as hearing aids, use them. If you wait too long and start developing memory issues, it will be harder for you to learn how to use hearing aids. So, you're better off getting used to them while you still have a sharp mind to help improve your quality of life.
Even though you can't prevent the development of cognitive issues as you age, certain lifestyle interventions can slow down the onset of Alzheimer's or dementia. Consider implementing the below habits to promote a healthy brain.
Lifestyle Habits For Promoting Brain Health
Here are some things you can do to help your brain health:
1. Keep Your Mind Active
You can keep learning throughout your life — no matter how far you got in school. Research does show a lower dementia risk if you have a high school or higher level of education. Research also shows if you keep an 8th-grade literacy or level of reading throughout your life, it keeps your mind active.
You should also engage in activities or hobbies that challenge you or keep you learning. This could be anything you enjoy like dancing, learning a foreign language or playing board games. Any new activity or hobby that increases your skill or forces you to learn over time helps to develop new neural connections in your brain.
And, healthy new neural connections could help you avoid any damage to your brain linked with Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
2. Consume a Mediterranean Diet
Also good for the health of your brain is to eat right. A beneficial diet to follow is the Mediterranean diet, which has you eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, fish, seeds and nuts, olive oil and legumes. A Mediterranean diet is largely plant-based, and calls for limiting the amount of red meat that you consume. It emphasizes replacing unhealthy fats, such as butter, with olive oil and canola oil. People who eat a Mediterranean diet switch out salt for herbs and spices to flavor their foods.
3. Keep a Good Social Network
Social connection helps your brain stay healthy as you get older. Therefore, it's essential you keep good relationships with your family and friends. If you're continually engaged in conversation with others and are around many people, this stimulation will positively affect the health of your brain.
4. Rehabilitate Your Hearing
Not much research has been conducted for checking the influence of hearing loss treatment for treating dementia. But, the research that has been conducted to this point does offer considerable hope.
One way of improving serious hearing loss is cochlear implants. A study with 94 elderly volunteers with profound deafness measured what effect cochlear implants had on cognitive functioning.
The researchers found hearing rehabilitation not only improved cognitive functioning, but it also improved speech perception.
The most direct connection between memory loss and auditory impairment is the brain. Therefore, any stimulus for helping the brain stay alert can keep the individual active as well. So, researchers are thinking about using music therapy for restoring cognitive functioning in individuals suffering from memory loss.
The Institute for Music and Neurological Function's cofounder, Concetta Tomaino, found music stimulates areas of the brain dementia makes inactive. Music therapy sessions, in one study were conducted with 45 volunteers who had chronic dementia. The study's results showed cognitive and neurological abilities significantly improved for individuals in the music group.
5. Be Physically Active
Did you know that using your muscles regularly also benefits your mind. One study revealed that animals who regularly exercised increased their number of small blood vessels bringing oxygenated blood to the section of the brain responsible for thinking. Exercise also helps to lower blood pressure, control blood pressure, decrease mental stress, and reduce cholesterol levels -- all which may help the function of your brain.
Contact Houston ENT & Allergy Services for a Hearing Assessment
Most hearing specialists agree, including us here at Houston ENT & Allergy Services, that identifying and treating hearing loss early is the key to reducing risks of developing various physical and emotional conditions, including Alzheimer's and dementia. Contact us by calling 281-649-7000 or completing our online form here to schedule your hearing loss consultation.
Mark Lynn Nichols, M.D., received his Bachelor of Science degree with Honors in Pharmacy in 1983, prior to his entering the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, where he received the degree of Doctor of Medicine with Highest Honors. Following his Internship in General Surgery, and Residency in Otolaryngology at UTMB, Dr. Nichols did a Fellowship in Otology-Neurology at the Ear Research Foundation, in Sarasota, Florida.
He is a member of several professional associations, and is a Diplomat of the American Board of Otolaryngology.