Hearing Loss and Dementia
What You Should Know and the Good News About Reducing Your Risk
While studies have begun revealing that there is a link between hearing loss and dementia, there are numerous studies in the works and good news on the horizon to help reduce your risk. One highly encouraging bit of news is the recent (October 2022) development whereby the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids direct to consumers. This opens up an incredible opportunity for millions of Americans to receive treatment for mild to moderate hearing loss and ultimately reduce their risk factors for cognitive decline, including conditions like dementia.
While the exact relationship between hearing loss and dementia is not yet fully understood, extensive research is being done, and researchers believe that several factors may contribute to this association. Here we explore the risk factors and underlying connection between hearing loss and dementia and discuss the positive news surrounding the use of hearing aids to help stave off this debilitating condition.
Hearing Loss and the Dementia Connection
First, hearing loss can lead to social isolation and depression, which are risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia. When individuals experience hearing loss, they may struggle to communicate with others and may withdraw from social activities, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. Studies have found that social isolation and loneliness are associated with an increased risk of developing dementia.
Second, hearing loss may lead to cognitive overload, which can place a strain on the brain and increase the risk of cognitive decline. When individuals with hearing loss struggle to hear, they may have to work harder to understand what others are saying, which can place a strain on their cognitive resources. This increased cognitive load may contribute to cognitive decline over time.
Third, hearing loss may be an early indicator of neurodegenerative disease. Some studies have suggested that hearing loss may be an early sign of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's disease. Researchers believe that changes in the brain that occur during these diseases may also affect the auditory system, leading to hearing loss. It is also possible that hearing loss and dementia share common underlying risk factors, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension. These conditions have been linked to both hearing loss and dementia, suggesting that there may be shared pathways that contribute to both conditions.
Good News – Treating Hearing Loss May Help Reduce Dementia Risk
In addition to studies linking hearing loss and dementia, there are studies reporting that treating hearing loss may help to reduce the risk for dementia. One study states that people with moderate-to-severe hearing loss had a 61% higher risk of developing dementia than those with normal hearing. However, hearing aid use mitigated this risk. People with moderate-to-severe hearing loss who used hearing aids to amplify sound had a 32% lower risk for dementia than their peers who didn't use a hearing aid.
Another study performed by National University of Singapore researchers points to hearing aids acting as a preventative tool against dementia and cognitive decline. The study found the use of hearing aids was associated with close to a 20% reduction in long-term cognitive decline.
Hearing loss in midlife has been estimated to account for 9% of dementia cases, a huge disease burden given that dementia affects 47 million people worldwide, according to an article published by the National Library of Medicine.
Free Hearing Testing and Easy Access to Treatment
Fortunately, testing and access to treatment for hearing loss has gotten much easier and more affordable. Lucid Hearing offers free testing in more than 500 hearing centers across the country. And with the FDA’s approval of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, people with mild to moderate hearing loss can get treatment quickly via purchases through various retail and online channels, including lucidhearing.com (https://shop.lucidhearing.com/products/otc-hearing-aids/). While a hearing assessment and prescription is not necessary to purchase OTC hearing aids, hearing experts still recommend getting tested to ensure you get the right hearing aids for your level of hearing loss.
Learn more about hearing loss and solutions through Lucid Hearing’s Learning Center (https://lucidhearing.com/learn-blogs) and be sure to schedule a free hearing assessment (https://lucidhearing.com/scheduler) near you for yourself or a loved one.
National Library of Medicine. How Can Hearing Loss Cause Dementia? Nov. 2020
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Quick Statistics About Hearing.