Hearing loss is thought of as a normal part of growing older: we start to hear things less clearly as we age. Maybe we begin to turn the volume up on the TV, or keep asking our grandkids to repeat themselves when they’re talking to us, or perhaps…we begin to…what was I going to say…oh ya. Perhaps we begin to lose our memory.
The general population has a far lower rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s than the older population. That’s why memory loss is regarded as a neutral part of aging. But could it be that the two are somehow connected? And what if you could manage your hearing loss while taking care of your mental health and preserving your memories?
Hearing Loss And Mental Decline
With about 30 million people in the United States who have hearing loss, the majority of them do not associate hearing loss with cognitive decline and dementia. However, if you look in the right direction, the link is very clear: if you have hearing loss, there is significant risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, according to numerous studies – even at fairly low levels of hearing impairment.
Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are also pretty prevalent in people who suffer from hearing loss. The key here is that hearing loss, mental health problems, 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 problems haven’t been definitively proven to be connected to hearing loss, there is definitely some connection and several clues that experts are looking at. There are two primary scenarios they have identified that they think contribute to problems: your brain working extra hard have to and social isolation.
research has shown that loneliness brings about depression and anxiety. And when people are dealing with hearing loss, they’re not as likely to socialize with other people. Many people can’t enjoy events 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 issues.
Additionally, researchers have found 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. The area of the brain that’s in charge of comprehending sounds, such as voices in a conversation, requires more help from other parts of the brain – namely, the area of the brain that used for memory. This causes cognitive decline to occur much quicker than it normally would.
Using Hearing Aids to Stop Cognitive Decline
Hearing aids are our first defense against cognitive decline, mental health problems, and dementia. Research has shown that patients improved their cognitive functions and were at a lower risk for developing dementia when they used hearing aids to combat their hearing loss.
In fact, we would likely see less instances of dementia and cognitive decline if more people wore hearing aids. Between 15% and 30% of people who need hearing aids even use them, which accounts for between 4.5 million and 9 million people. The World Health Organization reports that there are almost 50 million individuals who suffer from some form of dementia. The quality of life will be drastically enhanced for individuals and families if hearing aids can decrease that number by just a couple million people.