Hearing loss is generally accepted as just another part of getting older: we start to hear things less distinctly as we age. Maybe we need to keep asking the grandkids to repeat themselves when they talk, or we have to turn the volume up on the TV, or maybe…we begin to…what was I going to say…oh ya. Maybe we begin to suffer memory loss.
Memory loss is also often thought to be a regular part of aging because dementia and Alzheimer’s are far more widespread in the older population than the general population. But could it be that the two are somehow connected? And, better still, what if there was a way to manage hearing loss and also protect your memories and your mental health?
Cognitive Decline And Hearing Loss
With almost 30 million people in the United States who have hearing loss, most of them do not associate hearing loss with mental decline and dementia. However, the link is very clear if you look in the right direction: if you suffer from hearing loss, there is serious risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, according to many studies – even at fairly low levels of hearing impairment.
Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are also quite prevalent in people who have hearing loss. Your ability to socialize can be significantly impacted by hearing loss, cognitive decline, and other mental health issues and that’s the real key here.
Why is Cognitive Decline Related to Hearing Loss?
While cognitive decline and mental health problems haven’t been definitively proven to be connected to hearing loss, experts are looking at several clues that point us in that direction. They have identified two main scenarios which seem to result in problems: your brain working harder than it would normally have to and social isolation.
research has shown that loneliness goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression. And when people suffer from hearing loss, they’re less likely to socialize with other people. Lots of people can’t enjoy things like going to the movies because they find it too hard to hear the dialog. People who find themselves in this situation often begin to isolate themselves which can result in mental health concerns.
Additionally, researchers have discovered that the brain often has to work extra hard to compensate for the fact that the ears don’t hear as well as they should. When this takes place, other parts of the brain, like the one used for memory, are tapped for hearing and understanding sound. This overtaxes the brain and leads to the onset of cognitive decline much quicker than if the brain was processing sounds correctly.
Wearing Hearing Aids to Stop Cognitive Decline
Hearing aids restore our hearing allowing the brain to use it’s resources in a normal way which is our best defense for dealing with cognitive decline and dementia. Studies show that patients increased their cognitive functions and had a decreased rate of dementia when they managed their hearing loss with hearing aids.
As a matter of fact, we would most likely see fewer instances of dementia and cognitive decline if more people wore hearing aids. Between 15% and 30% of individuals who require hearing aids even use them, which makes up between 4.5 million and 9 million people. It’s estimated by the World Health Organization that there are close to 50 million individuals who have some form of dementia. If hearing aids can lower that number by even just a couple of million people, the quality of life for lots of people and families will develop exponentially.