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Hearing loss is a debilitating condition affecting 48 million people in the US alone. While hearing loss’s effect on the quality of communication and reduction of awareness of one’s surroundings is difficult enough for many, these side effects have lasting effects on mental and physical health as a whole.
Undiagnosed and untreated hearing loss can have devastating effects on mental health including depression, social isolation, anxiety, and insomnia. The effects on physical health are equally alarming with side effects like an increased risk of falls, hospitalizations and cognitive strain that if ignored has been found to increase the likeness of developing dementia.
What is Dementia?
Currently dementia affects 47 million people in the US and it is estimated for that number to triple in the next thirty years. Dementia is used to describe a diverse group of symptoms of cognitive decline that usually affects memory and a reduction in cognitive ability to finish daily activities.
Dementia typically starts slowly and progresses to more extreme levels over time. Also like hearing loss there is currently no cure for dementia though there are many treatments that can slow the process and maintain a higher quality of life longer if dealt with in a timely manner.
How are Dementia and Hearing Loss Linked?
Hearing loss occurs slowly, often affecting certain sounds, tones and frequencies before others. This leaves gaps in conversation, which the brain struggles to fill in during any conversation. This can be extremely exhausting for the body as a whole and the brain.
If hearing loss is ignored this can progress to a point where it can be hard to hear even in the most ideal settings. Your brain will become deprived of the sounds of your life. Many have linked this to brain atrophy and cognitive decline.
Additionally, untreated hearing loss tends to lead to social isolation – another risk factor for dementia.
Study in connecting hearing loss and dementia
Numerous studies including a 2011 study from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have found that hearing loss increases your risk of developing dementia to a dangerous level.
Cognitive decline is not scientifically proven to have a direct connection to hearing loss, however, many studies have found that those with hearing loss tend to experience a higher risk for developing dementia than their peers with average hearing. The study collected data from 639 people of all genders over an 18-year span and measured cognitive ability in comparison with hearing loss.
The study accounted for outside factors which could affect the results including age, sex, socioeconomic status, race and smoking habits and found that even so hearing loss played a serious role in increasing the risk of developing dementia. The study found that even a mild case of hearing made it twice as likely to develop dementia, while those with extreme hearing loss dealt with risk five times more than those with healthy hearing.
Factors connecting hearing loss to dementia
Some of the factors that cause hearing loss to contribute to dementia lie in the connection between social isolation and hearing loss. When people struggle to communicate due to untreated hearing loss it becomes exhausting. Often people will choose to avoid social situations rather than deal with embarrassment about not being able to understand and effort it takes to socialize. Scientists have found that social isolation is one of the most dangerous factors in a heightened risk for developing dementia.
Another factor that can speed up the onset of dementia lies in cognitive strain. When our brains struggle to hear with less audio information this causes our brains to work extraneously which can increase our risk of developing dementia.
How can Hearing Aids Help?
Hearing aids can be programmed to pick up the sounds that your specific ears struggle to decipher, making communication and awareness in a space much more accessible.
When you don’t struggle to hear you can stay social and your brain won’t have to spend extra energy processing sounds you can’t hear. When you consider the importance of your memories and brain, ignoring your hearing loss is something that is too dangerous to ignore.
Dealing with your hearing loss can become a quality of life issue and something you can do early to prevent the onset of dementia. Make an appointment to have you hearing tested today and get a head start on fighting the risk of dementia!