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Many people believe that if someone lives with untreated hearing loss, their challenges are mostly restricted to communication. The symptoms of untreated hearing loss are sadly more complicated than that.
Hearing loss can have a significant impact on the brain when left unaddressed, leading to social disengagement and severe health problems. In particular, there’s been a strong link between hearing loss and dementia established in recent studies.
In 2014, nearly 5 million people lived with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in the U.S., or 1,6 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2060, it is projected that the number will rise to 13.9 million or around 3.3 percent of the population.
Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is known as the sixth leading cause of death in the USA. The latest figures indicate that it is the third leading cause of death for older adults, right behind heart disease and cancer.
Study findings that treating hearing loss may reduce dementia risk.
With so much at stake, we should further explore how we can reduce the risk of the disease. And that is precisely what a recent report did. The study by the Lancet Commission examined the 12 factors which lead to dementia. It found that treating hearing loss was one of the twelve factors that could delay or prevent 40 percent of dementia cases. Other factors included:
- social isolation
- physical inactivity
- diabetes later in life (65 and up).
- excessive alcohol
- head injury
- air pollution
How Hearing Loss could lead to dementia
Scientists don’t know precisely how hearing loss can lead to dementia, but they know the brain is affected by hearing loss.
They suggest three possible ways that hearing loss could affect the brain and increase the risk of cognitive decline, a significant driver of dementia.
- Cognitive load: Living with untreated hearing loss increases your cognitive capacity and puts a lot of strain on the brain. Your mind has to work extremely hard to make sense of the sounds and compensate for all the gaps in your hearing. You will spend all your energy trying to follow a conversation, and have no brain power left to understand the meaning behind the words. You can’t memorize what you’ve heard, or focus on tasks while your brain struggles to listen. This constant jigsaw puzzle can strain the brain and lead to cognitive overload.
- Brain atrophy: Loss of hearing can also change your brain structure. When certain areas of the brain are not being used, such as those parts of the auditory system dedicated to the sounds you can’t hear anymore, these areas begin to shrink. Unused areas of the brain get less oxygenated blood and can start to deteriorate. Brain scans show that people who have hearing loss have less gray matter in their brains. You will have a higher risk of dementia as these areas get damaged or die.
- Social isolation: Not only are the consequences of untreated hearing loss physical; they can also permeate your social life and emotional well being. As your hearing skills fade away, you may find yourself withdrawing from social activities. This may cause depression and anxiety and deprive the brain of the vital stimulation given by conversation.
How hearing aids help prevent dementia
New research from the University of Michigan showed that hearing aid decreases 18 percent of the increased risk of dementia diagnosis like Alzheimer’s. According to Elham Mahmoudi ‘s report, hearing aids may lead to “a delay in the onset of dementia, depression and anxiety.”
Time to have your hearing tested
Some people ignore symptoms of hearing loss or get old and live with it. Yet hearing loss may be influencing your life in more ways than you’d expect, so talk to us today if you feel at risk.
It is best to get used to hearing aids while the mind is still sharp so that your quality of life can be improved. Although you can not always prevent cognitive problems from developing as you age, you can slow the onset of dementia through lifestyle interventions such as treatment for hearing loss.