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Hearing Loss Speeds up Brain Shrinkage and Could Lead to Dementia
Hearing loss is very common in older people. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, almost 25% of people aged 65 to 74 and 50% of people aged 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.
Hearing loss can have many negative repercussions on a person’s quality of life and can impact their ability to communicate with people around them.
Researchers have just discovered another serious negative repercussion associated with hearing loss. They believe that it may speed up brain shrinkage, which can increase the likelihood that a person is afflicted with dementia.
This article will talk about the causes of hearing loss in older people, and then discuss the latest research linking hearing loss to brain shrinkage and dementia. Finally, we’ll take a look at the steps you can take to address your own hearing loss or the hearing loss of an elderly relative.
Age-related Hearing Loss
The most common types of hearing loss are Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL) and conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss occurs when a physical blockage prevents sound from traveling into the ear correctly. Common causes of conductive hearing loss include physical injury to the ear and congenital birth defects.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss occurs when the nerve endings responsible for detecting sound die off. SNHL can also occur when the nerves that send electrical signals from the ear to the brain stop functioning correctly.
Most cases of age-related hearing loss are caused by a form of SNHL called Presbycusis.
Presbycusis results in hearing loss that slowly worsens over time. It is caused by damage inside the inner or in the nerves between the ear and the brain.
Age-related hearing loss typically affects both ears at the same rate. In the early stages of presbycusis, people may experience difficulty hearing high-pitched noises. In the later stages, it begins to affect how well a person hears low-pitched sounds.
Because this form of hearing loss develops very slowly, people may not be aware they are losing their hearing.
In many cases, people with age-related hearing loss will not seek treatment for many years or never seek treatment. Some people see age-related hearing loss as a relatively inconsequential part of aging — but there may be more serious illnesses associated with it.
Research Indicates a Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
A research paper released in 2011 followed 639 participants between the ages of 36 and 90 for more than 10-years. It found: “for individuals older than 60 years, more than one-third of the risk of dementia was associated with hearing loss”.
While researchers are unsure precisely how hearing loss and dementia are connected, they believe it may be caused by the social isolation from hearing loss. Older people with untreated hearing loss struggle to communicate with others and in many cases, simply give up. By not communicating with other people, their brain is less active and more likely to be afflicted by dementia.
Another possible cause for the link is “cognitive load”. If a person has age-related hearing loss, understanding other people may be difficult because words sound garbled. The brain has to use more resources to decode those garbled words. It does so at the expense of other brain functions.
The underused areas of the brain may begin to atrophy, which encourages the development of dementia. Researchers believe the shift in cognitive load may have a cascading effect on brain structure and then brain function.
If either of these theories is correct, older people may be able to substantially reduce their risk of dementia by treating their hearing loss as soon as possible.
How To Manage Hearing Loss
While there is no cure for age-related hearing loss, it can be treated in a number of ways including:
- Hearing Aids
Hearing aids are small electronic devices designed to amplify sound. Modern hearing aids can also process incoming sound, highlighting frequencies that the wearer hears well.
- Bone Anchored Hearing Systems
These systems are used when a person has a hearing problem that affects their middle ear or ear canal. It uses bone conduction and a digital processor to pick up sound, convert it to vibrations then send those signals to the inner ear.
- Cochlear Implants
Cochlear Implants are tiny devices that are implanted in the inner ear. They are usually for people who are profoundly deaf.
- Assistive Devices
There are dozens of assistive devices available including phone amplifiers, hearing loop systems and smartphone applications.
- Lip Reading
If a person struggles to follow conversations using their ears, they can learn to read lips and other non-verbal cues.
By treating age-related hearing loss, an elderly person can dramatically improve their quality of life. If this latest research is correct, taking immediate action on hearing loss is even more important than previously believed.
We hope you found this article on dementia related to hearing loss informative. If you have any questions about hearing loss or want to discuss our non-medical home care services, contact All Heart Home Care at 619-736-4677. We would love to come to your home and discuss the many home care options available!