How Hearing Loss Affects Dementia

How Hearing Loss Affects Dementia

Not many people associate hearing loss with dementia, but the affects drastically impact dementia/Alzheimer's victims.

Untreated hearing loss can reduce thinking ability and increase the risk of dementia. Here are the statistics:

  • People with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss had twofold, threefold, and fivefold increased risk of dementia.
  • More than 36.4% of the risk of dementia was accounted for by hearing loss in people 60 and older.
  • For Alzheimer's disease, risk increases by 20% for every 10 decibels of hearing loss.

In other words, a mild loss of hearing has a significant impact on the risk of dementia. The scans above reveal two different brains with the left and right halves positioned side by side. Hearing loss has damaged the brain on the left side, resulting in a considerable loss of brain tissue. The 40% loss of gray matter is permanent. The scan on the right side shows a normal brain.

Treating hearing loss with hearing aids helps preserve brain function. Hearing aids accomplish this by ensuring sound information reaches the brain for optimal function. Treating hearing loss as early as possible limits the amount of permanent damage.

The challenge with hearing loss is detecting it. It’s tricky because when you’ve lost hearing, you can still hear. Most hearing loss is gradual and very difficult to sense in ourselves. It’s not uncommon for friends and family to notice hearing loss before you do.

In the early stages of hearing loss, it is easy to be unaware of how much is lost. But don’t fool yourself: Even mild hearing loss — an amount you’re unlikely to recognize — still damages your brain and increases the risk of dementia.

An audiologist can accurately determine the amount you've lost (if any) and whether you should treat it.

(Article contributed by Doug Garfield, Sertoma Speech & Hearing Centers)

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