Hearing Loss and Dementia: Is There a Link?
Hearing loss and dementia are two leading problems that affect all people, old ones in particular. Many people associate them together, probably because they both happen in most cases to older people. It is still not completely known why the link is there, but there are many theories that support it.
Having untreated hearing loss increases the risk of developing dementia. In fact, it has been reported that hearing loss is one of the main factors for dementia. They occur together as the person gets older, and they have a huge impact on each other. There are many assumptions that researchers came up with to prove this relation. Hearing loss makes the brain work harder and do extra efforts. This has drastic effects on our memory and thinking. It also causes some parts of the brain to shrink with time due to age, causing it to become less effective, especially the part responsible for auditory action. A third assumption is linked to social interaction and loneliness. When the person can’t hear well, he will avoid going out and meeting people. This makes him less intellectually motivated, causing the brain to become less active and engaged.
What is Dementia?
Dementia happens when changes happen to the brain, causing specific pathways to be damaged. It generally starts following the age of 65. However, it can still occur at any age and to younger people.
The person having it is unable to remember things, think, or even make decisions related to his everyday routines. It comes in different types, with Alzheimer’s disease as the most common one.
How can you know you have it?
There are early symptoms that raise the red flag and are clear warning signs of dementia. Memory loss, forgetting events, difficulty concentrating, getting confused about place and time, mood swings, or finding difficulty to perform daily tasks such as cooking repetitive recipes, paying bills when shopping or remembering directions when driving.
To confirm the diagnosis of dementia and what is causing it, an MRI is highly recommended.
Hearing loss makes connecting and communicating with others difficult. This can lead in some cases to social isolation, depression or loneliness. From what we know about dementia, these are also from the main factors causing it. That is why researchers believe that people suffering from hearing loss develop more cognitive problems than those who don’t have hearing loss.
It is so important to respond in a sensitive way to people suffering from both dementia and hearing loss. If a person having dementia is unable to communicate his problems with hearing loss, this causes him distress and frustration.
Identifying and managing hearing loss is crucial when the person has dementia. Ignoring signs showing hearing loss and being hesitant to check our hearing as we are getting older can lead to dementia.
If you have hearing loss, quality hearing aids help reduce it and preserve your mental abilities as well. The sooner and more regularly you wear them, the more you reduce the risk of dementia.
Supporting people having dementia and helping them cope with it affects positively their hearing. For example, if they are using hearing aids and forgot how to use them or don’t recognize them, it will be harder for them to communicate and this will make them more confused. They may not even recall that they have a hearing problem from the start. Going with them to their regular hearing tests can decrease such encounters. They may find it difficult to understand the instructions given to them or they will be unable to give the correct information about their family history with hearing loss due to their memory problems. Usually in such cases, there are specialists in audiology center who are qualified to evaluate them. They use different diagnostic tests which are adapted, taking into consideration their memory and communication problems. They also ensure that the person wearing hearing aids is benefiting reliably from them.
Therefore, being always there for them and showing them full support and care can create huge difference.
Living with either hearing loss or dementia can be difficult. Living with both can be very challenging. Having regular hearing tests, improving their environment, and using gestures and face-to-face conversations for lip reading can all help. Once we take care of our hearing, we can similarly take care of our brains.
Many say hearing aids change lives. Well, they do!