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The Relationship Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
There’s a complex relationship between hearing loss and dementia, brain health and cognitive function. Hearing loss may predict or accelerate dementia, according to recent evidence.
We rely on hearing for many day-to-day activities like working. We need to listen to talk with people, enjoy dinner with friends and communicate with our loved ones. Those activities also help to keep our brains working properly.
Poor hearing undermines our relationships and makes us increasingly reliant on others. The knock-on effects of poor hearing include loneliness, depression and a loss of independence. Those same factors increase the risk of developing dementia.
Imagine a family with a difficult child who hogs most parental attention meaning the better-behaved siblings are unintentionally neglected. Hearing loss similarly affects your brain. When it’s difficult to hear, your brain must work harder to decode and process the sounds around you. It dedicates more and more of its resources to help you listen to what’s going on, meaning it may neglect other important tasks like your working memory.
You can see that happening in brain images. People with poor hearing lose more grey matter over time than people with good hearing. And that loss isn’t just in the brain regions related to hearing, suggesting that hearing loss affects other cognitive processes.
Treating Hearing Loss Early May Reduce the Risk of Dementia
Treating hearing loss sooner might save your brain from the extra strain, potentially delaying or preventing dementia and maintaining brain health.
In 2017, Professor Gill Livingston and her colleagues from University College London published an article in The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal in the UK. Professor Livingston and her team summarised the results of 13 studies that investigated the link between hearing loss and the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. They found that mid-life hearing loss was a significant but potentially modifiable risk factor for dementia.
Another study of nearly 2000 people with an average age of 77 found a link between hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults. Older people with hearing loss had an increased risk of developing dementia over the next ten years. That risk increased with the severity of their hearing loss.
Professor Livingston and her team estimate that managing hearing loss and other modifiable risk factors could prevent or delay about a third of dementia cases.
Treating hearing loss could mean your brain doesn’t have to work intensely on your hearing anymore so that it can pay attention to its other tasks. Hearing well again also means you can continue to enjoy your relationships and independence, which also helps maintain your cognitive function. Good hearing improves your quality of life now and helps to protect it in the future.
5 Dementia Risk Reduction Steps
Here are 5 more steps you can take to reduce your risk of cognitive decline.
- Be socially active with friends and family.
- Be physically active.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat healthy food.
- Control other diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.