Hearing Loss and Dementia

Posted by Living Sounds

Hearing is a great gift that many of us take for granted and don’t completely understand. Most people I talk too don’t realize that we hear with our brains and that our ears are actually just responsible for collecting and transmitting sound. Our brains are responsible for interpreting the sounds. Just like our eyes and nose send information about what we see and smell to our brain for us to interpret.

The process happens so quickly and seamlessly most times that we don’t question or realize what is actually happening. Unfortunately for people with hearing loss, the process of hearing becomes more difficult and requires a lot more concentration and effort from their brain to interpret sounds. With hearing loss, hair cells in the inner ear are damaged and cannot transmit sound signals to the brain properly. As hearing worsens and the brain is deprived of normal auditory messages, it forgets how to understand speech, much like muscles suffer from atrophy from lack of use.

People with hearing loss struggle to understand the conversations around them. Just trying to follow the conversation leaves them exhausted and stressed. As a result, they may start to withdraw from many of the activities they used to enjoy. Certain scenarios might tire them out, or might be embarrassing or difficult. Researchers believe untreated hearing loss complicates dementia and Alzheimer’s because it is associated with a wide range of emotional and psychological issues including depression, anxiety, social isolation and fatigue.

Dementia is a group of symptoms that leads to a deterioration of mental functions, including the ability to think, concentrate, remember and reason. Health professionals estimate dementia will affect 100 million people worldwide by 2050. Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain tissue and accounts for more than 70 percent of all dementia cases. Some studies have tried to show that hearing loss may lead to dementia, and while there is no direct evidence of hearing loss causing dementia, there is proof that hearing loss leads to a greater cognitive load on the brain. If the brain has to make more of an effort to do one task, it will be compromised in others. Taking yourself out of daily interactions because your hearing problems make them impossible or difficult may raise the risk of memory loss and cognitive problems. Being sociable and taking part in activities protects against dementia, possibly because it relieves stress, which is known to be harmful to the brain.

If you notice that you’re not hearing as well as you used to, it is a good idea to seek help as soon as possible. Research indicates the longer you wait to seek help for your hearing, the more likely it is your brain will forget how to interpret sound. Researchers believe auditory deprivation and social isolation prevalent in individuals with untreated hearing loss put them more at risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s, two diseases known for the deterioration of brain function.

I believe untreated hearing loss does complicate dementia and Alzheimer’s because not hearing well is such a strain on cognitive brain function. Having to concentrate so hard on hearing and reading lips, causes people to unknowingly become tired and fatigued. Lucky hearing aids can help amplify the sounds many have difficulty understanding to promote better hearing in all situations, taking the stress out of hearing. I’ve always said there are enough things to worry about in life, straining to hear and follow conversations shouldn’t be one of them.

Klinton Pilling BC-HIS
Board Certified in Hearing Instrument Sciences
Registered Hearing Aid Practitioner

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