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Ingleside at Rock Creek Blog

IRC Blog
Posted: Monday, April 11, 2016

Poor hearing can affect your mental and physical health

An earlier study in 2011 of 600 older people linked hearing loss with dementia. Dr. Lin and his team found that older people with the most profound hearing loss were five times more likely to develop dementia than those with normal hearing. Moderate hearing loss tripled the risk of dementia, and even mild hearing loss doubled the risk of developing the disease. 

In that study, the researchers tested volunteers’ hearing and cognitive abilities over a four-year period. About a fourth of the subjects had some hearing loss at the start of the study, and they were significantly more likely to develop dementia by the end. 

Hearing loss has also been linked with brain atrophy, stress and depression. 

These studies found an association between hearing impairment and dementia but did not establish a causal relationship, and many people with hearing loss do not develop dementia.

But Lin and other researchers’ findings have raised interesting new questions. Answering them could lead to new ways to treat dementia.  

Among the possibilities they’re exploring is whether the strain of trying to hear better overwhelms the brain and makes it more vulnerable to dementia, and whether hearing loss could lead to dementia by making people more socially isolated, a known risk factor for cognitive disorders. 

Even though we don’t yet know whether hearing loss causes or contributes to development of dementia, there are plenty of good reasons to get your hearing tested and treated. 

Other research has established links between untreated hearing loss and physical, emotional and social problems, including fatigue, stress, depression, impaired memory and reduced alertness. Hearing loss also can affect your personal safety—for example, raising the risk of falls. 

Many people suspect that their hearing has deteriorated but avoid seeking help.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association calls untreated hearing loss a growing national epidemic. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, people 65 and older are among 36 million Americans with hearing loss. About one-third of people between 65 and 74 and nearly half of those over 75 are hearing impaired, but only 20 percent of those who might benefit from treatment actually get it. 

That’s unfortunate, because research has also shown that holistic treatment of and education about hearing loss results in improved quality of life. Treatment for hearing loss includes assistive listening devices and hearing aids. People with severe or total hearing loss may benefit from a cochlear implant, an electronic device that stimulates the auditory nerve. 

If you think you’re not hearing well, please do yourself a favor and make an appointment with a hearing care professional.

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