Can You Hear Me? Hearing Loss May Result in Dementia
The prevalence of dementia is projected to double every 20 years such that by 2050 more than 100 million people or nearly 1 in 85 persons will be affected worldwide. (Ferri, World Alzheimer’s Report)
A diagnosis of dementia results from a variety of conditions and health concerns including heart and vascular concerns, diabetes, a low level of involvement in leisure and social activities, and sedentary behavior that results in physical disability and isolation. Hearing loss may also contribute to a diagnosis of dementia.
Hearing loss is a condition, much like diabetes and dementia, that may be undiagnosed for years. Individuals with hearing loss are more likely to report depression as a result from social isolation, to report anxiety and paranoia related to hearing conversations incorrectly or not hearing at all. Hearing loss occurs at any age and for many reasons.
Presbycusis is the term for a decrease in hearing due to aging. Individuals most often lose the ability to hear in the higher ranges that negatively effects the ability to hear soft consonants, for example s, sh, t, or th.
If someone has ever told you that you are mumbling, they may be experiencing hearing loss in the higher ranges or hearing. Background noise also affects the ability to hear. Approximately 50% of people between age 70-74 experience some level of hearing loss.
The negative results of hearing loss are many and include: avoiding social situations due to embarrassment of being unable to hear, loneliness, an increased number of falls and accidents, diminished psychological and overall health, and a higher probability of cognitive decline that results in a diagnosis of dementia. It is believed that hearing loss places stress on the brain resulting in the brain working harder to comprehend information and to understand conversations.
If you have ever attempted to have a conversation with an individual with hearing loss, you know that this can be challenging. You may have to speak directly into the person’s ear or become a scribe and write down the words you are attempting to speak. This process can be tiring and make conversations or socializing difficult. Eventually family or friends may just give up attempting to have conversations because the effort to have even a simple conversation is time consuming and frustrating.
The benefits of correcting hearing loss as related to cognition are significant. Those who wear hearing aids will tell you that the brain has to relearn to hear sounds when hearing aids are worn after a period of hearing loss that was not identified or addressed. Initially, when wearing hearing aids, simple sounds like the rustling of a newspaper or dropping a spoon on the floor may be annoying.
If the brain loses the ability to hear sounds, imagine what other parts of the brain may be affected when individuals experience hearing loss over an extended period of time. Might it also be said that for persons who give up reading or intellectual pursuits that the brain also starves in these areas? What about physical activity, does the body atrophy and forget how to move? The brain is the computer that runs our entire body. A lack of use of the brain in any single area might severely effect many other areas of our physical and cognitive abilities.
Barriers to hearing aids are usually cost and more often vanity. Hearing aids may be compared to having to use a walker or a cane or may lead one to believe that they will be perceived as old if hearing aids are used. With technology today, hearing aids should be viewed as comparable to cellphones and other electronic devices. Why not be the first one with the latest hearing devices?
The risk to health and cognition of not wearing hearing aids are significant. Statistics show that only 20% of people with hearing loss have taken any type of corrective action. Many times, we simply are unaware that we are experiencing hearing loss unless we have our hearing tested. Thirty-five million Americans experience hearing loss yet only about 1/3 or 10 million wear hearing devices.
As you might imagine, technological advances with respect to hearing aids have been significant. There are hearing aids that are worn over the ear, which may be considered the old type of hearing aid. There are hearing aids that fit inside the ear. There are hearing aids that pair with blue tooth devices and that can be programmed by your cellphone. The technology for hearing aids today might amaze you.
If you think you are experiencing hearing loss, it’s worth your time to be tested. You may learn that you’re missing out on a significant part of the world due to hearing loss. If you need hearing aids, consider the fact that you also might be preventing a potential decrease in cognition.
Can you hear me? Hearing loss may result in a diagnosis of dementia.
Ferri CP, Prince M, Brayne C, et al; Alzheimer’s Disease International. Global prevalence of dementia: a Delphi consensus study. Lancet. 2005;366(9503):2112- 2117.
Alzheimer’s Disease International. World Alzheimer Report 2009. In: Prince M, Jackson J, eds. London, England: Alzheimer’s Disease International; 2009. 3. Brookmeyer R, Johnson E, Ziegler-Graham K, Arrighi HM. Forecasting the global
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