Dementia: All that You Need to Know
Updated: Nov 1
As we age, connections between the cells in the brain start to be damaged or lost, causing brain atrophy or cognitive decline. Many studies have shown that hearing loss increases the risk of cognitive issues. There is currently a lot of interest in the reduction of dementia. Read more to discover what dementia is and how it might affect your life.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning in a way where it starts to interfere with your daily life and activities. It is a general term used for loss of memory, problem-solving, language, and other thinking abilities that drastically affect the normal routine of your day.
It ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it only affects the person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person starts depending completely on others to manage daily activities. It is not a normal part of aging as some people think. Many elderlies live into their 90s and beyond without any sign of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is considered to be one of the most common forms of dementia.
Dementia is irreversible, but its risks or effects can be reduced.
Symptoms of Dementia
When abnormal brain changes happen, neurons (nerve cells) in the brain stop working, lose connections with other brain cells, or die, this could indicate the beginning of dementia. All people lose some neurons as they age. However, people with dementia experience a greater loss.
Signs might vary greatly depending on the type of dementia. Dementia is not a disease. It is rather a collection of symptoms that you might experience. These symptoms are progressive, meaning they start slowly and get worse with time. Some symptoms might include:
Difficulty speaking or expressing thoughts
Difficulty writing and reading
Getting lost or wandering in their neighborhood
Difficulty remembering appointments
Taking longer time to complete normal/usual daily tasks
Paranoia or experiencing delusions
Balance and movement problems
It’s important to mention that people with developmental or intellectual disabilities can also develop dementia as they age. In this case, recognizing the symptoms might be a hard task. That is why it is crucial to consider the person’s current abilities and to monitor any change over time that could signal dementia.
Causes of Dementia
As mentioned earlier, dementia is the result of abnormal brain changes in specific brain regions and a variety of diseases that cause the brain neurons and their connections to stop working properly. This damage makes it difficult for the different cells to communicate with each other. Once the brain can’t communicate normally, people’s behavior, thinking, or feelings can be affected.
For example, in Alzheimer’s disease, high levels of specific proteins found inside and outside the brain cells make it very hard for the brain cells to stay healthy and communicate with each other.
Different theories might help in explaining the existence of dementia.
Certain diseases might cause the narrowing of blood vessels, thus accelerating both cognitive decline and hearing loss.
The increased efforts diverted towards understanding what others are saying can result in less cognitive reserves available for memory and other mental functions.
Hearing loss results in social isolation, a major factor of dementia.
Different Types of Dementia
Through the progressive and irreversible loss of brain functioning and neurons, many disorders and factors contribute to the development of dementia. Currently, there is no fixed cure for any type of dementia. The types consist of:
Lewy body dementia
Mixed dementia- a mixture of two or more types of dementia
Effects of dementia
People with dementia might not be able to control their emotions, and their personalities might change. It will certainly affect their behavior, feelings, and relationships. They will feel insecure and nondependent. Sometimes when they overreact to things, they start having rapid mood changes.
Dementia Can Be Cured?
There is currently no cure for dementia, but there are treatments that can help to slow the progression of the disease and improve symptoms. These treatments include medications, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
Researchers are working hard to develop new treatments for dementia, and there is some hope that a cure may be found in the future. For example, some researchers are developing gene therapy treatments that could repair the damage caused by dementia. Other researchers are developing new drugs that could target the underlying causes of dementia.
However, it is important to note that dementia is a complex disease, and it is unlikely that there will be a single cure. It is more likely that a combination of treatments will be needed to treat dementia effectively.
Despite the challenges, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of dementia treatment. Researchers are making significant progress, and there are many promising new treatments in development.
Hearing loss and Dementia
Hearing loss is simply having trouble hearing what others are saying.
It is usually associated with dementia. Recent research has shown that hearing loss might be a cause of dementia. A new study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that old adults with greater severity of hearing loss are more likely to have dementia.
Hearing loss and dementia often occur together and have an impact on each other. Researchers are constantly trying to find a solution. What strong evidence they have is that:
Hearing is a major part of brain health.
Mild hearing loss doubles the risk of having dementia.
Moderate hearing loss allows up to three times the risk of developing dementia.
Severe hearing loss increases the risk five times of developing dementia.
It is very important for people who suffer from dementia to have regular hearing tests. The starting point is to have your GP refer you to an audiology team. The audiologist with knowledge of dementia can understand the situation in a better way and tailor the process to the person’s individual needs. Once hearing loss is identified, it can be managed with hearing aids.
Living with both conditions -hearing loss and dementia- is more difficult than living with either on its own. They both impact how the person copes day by day in communication, independence, and social interaction.
Hearing aids and Dementia
Hearing loss makes the brain work harder and causes auditory stimulation to be reduced, forcing it to fill in the gaps. It places an additional load on the mental resources of the brain which causes fewer resources for memory, understanding speech, and other cognitive functions. All of this leads to changes in the brain.
The more the brain gets stimulated and engaged in everyday life, the less likely it is for dementia to develop. However, it is very crucial to mention that hearing loss is only a risk factor. Having any form of hearing loss doesn’t mean that the person will develop dementia.
Those with moderate to severe hearing loss can reduce the risk of dementia by simply using digital hearing aids. Research has indicated that using hearing aids to treat hearing loss may help to slow the development of cognitive problems.
Remember that not all hearing aids work in the case of dementia. Some types of hearing aids are very discreet, so they may be too small and easy to lose for patients with dementia, especially if they also have dexterity problems.
Social activities are the best ways to stimulate the brain.
When individuals suffer from moderate to severe hearing loss, they become less likely to participate in social activities. Some get embarrassed about their hearing loss and start being isolated, especially when they cannot hear properly what is going on. They show signs of loneliness and depression, followed by a loss of independence. Therefore, using hearing aids will decrease the isolation and low self-esteem the person might feel.
Some risk factors may increase the risk of developing dementia. They include:
Low social and mental stimulation
Excessive alcohol use
What can be done to reduce dementia?
Different lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of developing dementia. These are considered to be ‘modifiable risk factors’ because you can change your risk with the things you do every day. These include:
Engaging more in routine or regular physical exercises
Regularly challenging and stimulating your brain- learning new things
Having regular social contact- Staying socially active and more engaged
Having regular hearing checks
Reducing background noise and distractions
Those with hearing loss have a faster cognitive decline. Hearing loss sometimes mimics the symptoms of cognitive impairment. You might assume you are suffering from dementia, while your symptoms might indicate hearing loss. Do you want to reduce the risk of dementia or hearing loss? Get your hearing checked today!