Hearing Loss and Dementia: What’s the Link?

Hearing test showing ear of senior man with sound waves simulation technology

Want to take all the joy out of your next family get-together? Start to talk about dementia.

Dementia isn’t a subject most people are intentionally seeking to discuss, mostly because it’s rather scary. A degenerative cognitive disease in which you slowly (or, more frighteningly, quickly) lose your cognitive faculties, dementia causes you to lose touch with reality, experience mood swings, and have memory problems. Nobody wants to experience that.

For this reason, many individuals are looking for a way to prevent, or at least slow, the advancement of dementia. There are some clear connections, as it turns out, between dementia and untreated hearing loss.

You may be surprised by that. What does your brain have to do with your ears after all? Why does hearing loss increase the risk of dementia?

When you disregard hearing loss, what are the consequences?

You recognize that you’re beginning to lose your hearing, but it isn’t at the top of your list of worries. It’s nothing that turning up the volume on your tv won’t solve, right? Maybe you’ll just put on the captions when you’re watching your favorite show.

But then again, maybe you haven’t detected your hearing loss yet. Maybe the signs are still easy to ignore. Either way, hearing loss and cognitive decline have a powerful connection. That could have something to do with what occurs when you have neglected hearing loss.

  • It becomes harder to understand conversations. Consequently, you may start to isolate yourself socially. You can draw away from family, friends, and loved ones. You won’t talk with others as much. It’s not good for your brain to isolate yourself like this. It’s not good for your social life either. What’s more, many people who experience hearing loss-related social isolation don’t even recognize it’s happening, and they most likely won’t attribute their solitude to their hearing.
  • Your brain will be working overtime. When you have neglected hearing loss, your ears don’t pick up nearly as much audio information (this is sort of obvious, yes, but stick with us). This will leave your brain filling in the missing gaps. This is incredibly taxing. Your brain will then need to get extra energy from your memory and thought centers (at least that’s the current theory). The thinking is that after a while this leads to dementia (or, at least, helps it along). Your brain working so hard can also result in all kinds of other symptoms, like mental stress and exhaustion.

So your hearing impairment is not quite as harmless as you might have suspected.

Hearing loss is one of the leading signs of dementia

Let’s say you just have slight hearing loss. Like, you’re unable to hear whispers, but everything else sounds normal. Well, even with that, your chance of developing dementia is doubled.

Meaning that even mild hearing loss is a fairly strong initial indication of a dementia risk.

So… How should we interpret this?

Well, it’s important to remember that we’re dealing with risk here. Hearing loss is not a guarantee of cognitive decline or even an early symptom of dementia. Instead, it just means you have a higher risk of developing dementia or going through cognitive decline later in life. But there might be an upside.

Because it means that effectively dealing with your hearing loss can help you decrease your chance of dementia. So how do you manage your hearing loss? There are several ways:

  • If your hearing loss is detected early, there are some steps you can take to protect your hearing. As an example, you could stay away from noisy events (like concerts or sports games) or wear hearing protection when you’re around anything loud (for example, if you work with heavy machinery).
  • Wearing a hearing aid can help minimize the impact of hearing loss. So, can dementia be prevented by wearing hearing aids? That’s hard to say, but hearing aids can improve brain function. Here’s the reason why: You’ll be able to participate in more conversations, your brain won’t have to work so hard, and you’ll be a little more socially connected. Your chance of developing dementia later in life is minimized by managing hearing loss, research indicates. That’s not the same as preventing dementia, but it’s a good thing regardless.
  • Come see us so we can help you determine any hearing loss you may have.

Other ways to decrease your dementia risk

Naturally, there are other things you can do to reduce your chance of cognitive decline, too. This might include:

  • Eating a healthy diet, specifically one that helps you keep your blood pressure from getting too high. In some cases, medication can help here, some individuals simply have naturally higher blood pressure; those people could need medication sooner than later.
  • Get some exercise.
  • Getting adequate sleep at night is crucial. Some studies have linked a higher risk of dementia to getting fewer than four hours of sleep each night.
  • Don’t smoke. Seriously. Smoking will raise your chance of dementia as well as impacting your general health (this list also includes excessive alcohol use).

Needless to say, scientists are still studying the connection between dementia, hearing loss, lifestyle, and more. It’s a complex disease with a matrix of causes. But any way you can lower your risk is good.

Being able to hear is its own advantage

So, hearing better will help reduce your general risk of developing dementia in the future. But it isn’t only your future golden years you’ll be improving, it’s now. Imagine, no more solitary visits to the store, no more confused conversations, no more misunderstandings.

Missing out on the important things in life stinks. And a little bit of hearing loss management, possibly in the form of a hearing aid, can help significantly.

So call us today for an appointment.



The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.