Hearing Loss and Dementia

The ties between hearing loss and dementia

 

Hearing loss impacts a large percentage of seniors. In fact, 75% of individuals aged 70 years or older have hearing loss, making it the 3rd most common health condition in older adults.1 Moreover, more than just individual's loss of hearing, this hidden disability has implications for cognitive health and mental health care. 

Both hearing loss and dementia can have serious ramifications for families, friends and colleagues. 



Caring for someone with hearing loss

Understanding Alzheimer's disease and dementia

The National Institute on Aging defines dementia as, "The loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person's daily life and activities."

There are various types of dementia. The most common, Alzheimer's disease, impacts an estimated 5.7 million Americans in 2018.2 Fighting Alzheimer's disease can pose a huge burden to families as they struggle to find the right help for their loved one, either in a home or professional care setting. As the brain functions deteriorate, an individual's needs can exhaust resources, whether financial savings or a family's desire to take care on a patient in-home.

The Alzheimer's Association and the Alzheimer's Foundation of America are two organizations that provide resources for families and patients. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer's disease of other forms of dementia, these groups may have local support groups. 

Several neurological and mental-health-related conditions have been linked to untreated hearing loss. These include:

  • Dementia
  • Mental acuity
  • Depression

 Addressing hearing loss makes a difference for your overall wellness. Research consistently demonstrates the considerable effects that hearing loss has on social, psychological and cognitive performance.3  Losing the ability to communicate effectively with others can mean weaker interpersonal relationships, especially for people with both hearing loss and dementia.

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Treating Hearing Loss Early May Mean Successful Outcomes

Treating hearing loss early may mean successful outcomes

Ignoring hearing problems can mean that issues may worsen over time, exposing individuals to other health problems.4 Since hearing loss is an invisible illness, and many of its negative effects are manifested in the long term, it isn’t always prioritized as a health issue. Why is it important to treat hearing loss early? It can:

  • Help avoid the onset of more serious health challenges
  • Make transition to hearing aids (or other treatments) easier
  • Allow you to adapt to a new lifestyle

Types of hearing aids

For a long time, medical professionals have understood that hearing loss can impact more than just the ears. Losing the ability to hear can lead to other issues with significant brain-related functions. Recent research has shown that untreated hearing loss can lead to widespread challenges to brain wellness and mental health. That's why it's important to understand the links between hearing loss and dementia.

Hearing loss is also linked to sleep apnea. And, most people know that sleeping well is essential to overall wellness.

Learn more about brain wellness

Alzheimer’s disease linked to hearing loss

Researchers continue to focus on the links between Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss. Recent findings show that hearing loss could be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s.4

Some study participants who showed mild hearing loss at the beginning of a four-year period were more than four times more likely to have mild cognitive impairment after four years than those with normal hearing. Links between hearing loss and dementia suggest that treating hearing loss could be utilized as an intervention for Alzheimer’s patients.

We need more research to expand our understandings of any relationships between hearing loss and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

If you have a loved one who you suspect has Alzheimer's disease or dementia, there are several national organizations with resources for you:

Depression can also be a factor in both hearing loss and dementia

In addition to links between hearing loss and dementia, hearing loss has been linked to depression. In one study, researchers found a significant association between hearing loss and an increased risk of depression in adults of all ages; however, individuals aged 18 to 69 years were most at risk.5

Diagnosing depression in people with Alzheimer's disease can be an extra challenge, as individuals with dementia may struggle to articulate their feelings. Early-onset depression has been found to be a significant risk factor for people with dementia.6

Although research has shown that hearing aids can improve symptoms of depression,5 we still need more work to prove that treating hearing loss with hearing aids could improve cognitive decline.

While hearing aids can help with many types of hearing loss, treatment of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia is multifaceted. It may include:

  • Medications
  • Behavioral modification and therapies
  • Addressing dementia-related sleep issues
  • Other alternative therapies

If you have a loved one with changes to memory, acuity or other similar concerns, please contact your local primary care physician, who can help you navigate the sometimes murky waters of treatment. 

Want more details on hearing loss and dementia?

Check out our free white paper, Addressing Hearing Loss is Key to Your Brain's Wellness, to learn more about how neurological challenges are linked to hearing loss and why treating hearing loss early may mean improved outcomes.

Get the whitepaper

1Adele M. Goman, Frank R. Lin, “Prevalence of Hearing Loss by Severity in the United States”, American Journal of Public Health 106, no. 10 (October 1, 2016): pp. 1820-1822.

2 https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures Accessed October 13, 2018.

3“Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_accelerated_brain_tissue_loss_ Accessed October 13, 2018.

4“Hearing Loss Could Pose Greater Risk of Potential Dementia in Later Life – Study.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/17/hearing-loss-could-pose-greater-risk-of-potential-dementia-in-later-life-study Accessed October 13, 2018

5Chuan-Ming Li, MD, PhD, et al. "Hearing Impairment Associated With Depression in US Adults, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2010." JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014;140(4):293-302. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/fullarticle/1835392 Accessed October 15, 2018.

6"How are depression and dementia related?" Help for Alzheimer's Families. www.helpforalzheimersfamilies.com/learn/the-basics/alzheimers-faqs/depression-and-dementia/ Accessed October 15, 2018.