Hearing loss is thought of as a typical part of growing old: we start to hear things less distinctly as we age. Perhaps we need to keep asking the grandkids to speak up when they talk, or we have to turn the volume up on the TV, or maybe…we start…where was I going with this…oh ya. Maybe we begin to suffer memory loss.
The general population has a much lower rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s than the older population. That’s why loss of memory is considered a neutral part of aging. But is it possible that the two are somehow connected? And what if you could manage your hearing loss while taking care of your mental health and protecting your memories?
Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline
With nearly 30 million people in the United States suffering from hearing loss, the majority of them do not associate hearing loss with mental decline and dementia. However, if you look in the right direction, the connection is quite clear: studies show that there is a serious chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-like disorders if you also have hearing loss – even if you have relatively mild loss of hearing.
Mental health problems including anxiety and depression are also fairly prevalent in people who suffer from hearing loss. The key here is that hearing loss, mental health concerns, and cognitive decline all have an impact on our ability to socialize.
Why Does Hearing Loss Affect Cognitive Decline?
While cognitive decline and mental health issues haven’t been definitively proven to be linked to hearing loss, experts are looking at several clues that point us in that direction. There are two primary situations they have identified that they believe lead to issues: your brain working extra hard have to and social isolation.
Many studies show that loneliness results in depression and anxiety. And people are not as likely to socialize when they are dealing with hearing loss. Many people find that it’s too difficult to have conversations or can’t hear well enough to enjoy activities like the movie theater. These actions lead down a path of solitude, which can result in mental health issues.
Also, researchers have discovered that the brain often has to work overtime because the ears aren’t functioning like they should. When this takes place, other areas of the brain, such as the one used for memory, are diverted for hearing and understanding sound. This causes cognitive decline to happen much faster than it normally would.
Using Hearing Aids to Stop Cognitive Decline
Hearing aids are our first defense against cognitive decline, mental health concerns, and dementia. Studies show that patients improved their cognitive functions and were at a decreased risk for developing dementia when they used hearing aids to fight their hearing loss.
In fact, if more people wore their hearing aids, we may see fewer cases of mental health concerns and cognitive decline. Between 15% and 30% of people who require hearing aids even use them, that’s 4.5 to 9 million people. It’s estimated by the World Health Organization that there are nearly 50 million individuals who deal with some kind of dementia. The quality of life will be dramatically improved for people and families if hearing aids can lessen that number by just a couple million people.