Independent audiologist Julian Hinvest introduces new research linking hearing loss with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Recent studies show that hearing loss is linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (see references below). When managing your personal health, this at the very least points to hearing loss as an early warning sign. But the interesting question is whether actually using hearing aids can slow dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Considering the 3.5 million people in Australia with significant hearing loss and the flow-on effect dementia and Alzeimer’s Disease has on family members this is important personal and family health news.

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The studies show that older adults with hearing loss are likely to experience:

  • Faster changes in the brain.
    MRI scans show that specific areas of the brain may reduce in volume because of a lack of proper stimulus.
  • Faster onset of dementia.
    Hearing loss is associated with up to 40% faster loss of memory and thinking ability than for those who have no hearing problems.
  • Increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease
    For every 10 dB of hearing loss, there is a
    20% extra risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

How are these conditions connected to hearing?

The reasons for these additional risks are not fully understood.

The study authors propose that the strain of decoding sounds over the years may overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss, leaving them more vulnerable to dementia. They also speculate that hearing loss could lead to dementia by making individuals more socially isolated, which is a known risk factor for dementia and other cognitive disorders.

If this is the case, then hearing aids may have the potential to slow these disorders. Further studies are underway to determine if hearing aids can delay, or even prevent, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

What can you do?

In the meantime the study authors recommend early treatment of hearing loss: “If you want to address hearing loss well, you want to do it sooner rather than later. If hearing loss is potentially contributing to these differences we’re seeing on MRI, you want to treat it before these brain structural changes take place” (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2014).

While there is no answer to whether improved capacity to hear will slow dementia and Alzheimer’s the research raises this as a possibility and a low risk approach would be to get a hearing test and if necessary use hearing aids. This is of course on top of all the other good reasons for doing so.
If you want to take immediate action take this online hearing test. If your results show that you may have a hearing problem, we encourage you to book an appointment for a professional hearing test.

References:

Lin, F: Hearing loss and cognition among older adults in the United States. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2011; 66(10) pp1131-6

Lin, F et al: Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2013; 173(4) pp293-299

Lin, F et al: Association of hearing impairment with brain volume changes in older adults. NeuroImage 2014; 90 pp84–92

Lin, F et al: Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia. Arch Neurol.2011; 68(2) p214

Johns Hopkins Medicine: Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss (2014) retrieved from www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_accelerated_brain_tissue_loss_