Hearing loss and dementia often occur simultaneously because they are both issues that affect older people, but is there more to it than that? 

There is strong evidence to suggest that hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia and worsen the symptoms. Studies show that people may have a reduced risk of dementia if they seek the advice of a hearing instrument specialist and get fitted with hearing aids earlier in life, so hearing loss does not have as much of an impact. This article explores the potential links between hearing loss and dementia. 

Misdiagnosis of dementia 

Hearing loss can sometimes be misdiagnosed as dementia because the symptoms look relatively similar. People in the early stages of dementia have trouble processing information, which leads to difficulty following conversations. In an environment with a lot of distractions, it is difficult for them to process what they have heard and so they may be unresponsive during conversation. 

However, these difficulties with communication are also indicative of somebody that is experiencing hearing loss. In a loud environment with a lot of background noise, it is harder to pick out individual voices and follow conversations. So, people with hearing loss have the same trouble as people with dementia when it comes to engaging socially. Often, misunderstanding words or failing to respond to conversation is misdiagnosed as a symptom of dementia, rather than hearing loss. 

Hearing loss as a risk factor for dementia 

Although hearing loss can be misdiagnosed as dementia, it is also common for people to experience both because hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia. Although the exact reasons why are not yet clear, there are strong theories being developed and it is expected that there will be a breakthrough in this area in the coming years. 

Studies show that an adult with mild hearing loss is twice as likely to develop dementia in later life and somebody with moderate hearing loss is three times as likely. The likelihood of developing dementia is five times greater in adults with severe hearing loss, so there is a causal link. 

One potential reason for this link has to do with the shrinkage of brain tissue. Research shows that people with hearing loss lose brain tissue at a faster rate. This puts excess stress on cognitive function and can lead to accelerated decline, meaning that patients are more likely to develop dementia in later life. As resources are taken away from other areas of the brain to assist with processing auditory information. 

The role of social isolation 

It is thought that social isolation can contribute to cognitive decline and there is a strong link between social isolation and hearing loss. People that experience hearing loss often have difficulty with social situations because it is hard for them to follow conversations. In a one-on-one conversation, it is much easier but in a space with lots of background noise or a large group with multiple people speaking at once, isolating voices is difficult. This means that people with hearing loss feel left out because they cannot engage with people in social settings. 

Over time, they begin to withdraw from social interactions and isolate themselves and drastically increases their chances of developing dementia in later life. It can also increase the risk of mental health issues too, so social isolation is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with. Seeing a hearing instrument specialist and getting fitted with hearing aids can alleviate the social isolation issue and reduce the long-term risk of dementia. 

What can be done to protect against dementia?

Although hearing loss has a role to play, there are many other factors that increase the risk of dementia. If you are concerned that somebody close to you may have dementia, it is important that you seek advice from a doctor. However, they should have your hearing tested by a hearing instrument specialist to ensure that there is not a misdiagnosis. 

If you experience hearing loss of any kind, early intervention is key. Many of the effects of hearing loss which lead to an increased risk of dementia can be managed with hearing aids. A hearing instrument specialist can help you to select the right hearing aids so you can participate in daily life and thrive in social situations, without extra cognitive stress. This will, in turn, reduce your risk of dementia in later life. However, if you neglect your hearing, it is more difficult to reduce your risk. 

If you are concerned about your hearing and the impact it may have on your cognitive ability, get in touch with the Nu-Life Hearing Centre today at (855) 867-7449 to learn more about how we can help.