Dementia Awareness Week 2022 16th-22nd May
Over the years there have been many talks and editorials about the links between dementia and hearing loss. Up until very recently, I wrote an article about the importance of being more dementia-aware and why a hearing aid could save your brain. But, more on that later.
I vividly remember reading a newspaper article about a case of someone being misdiagnosed with dementia when they actually had a hearing loss. In short, this was a misunderstood hearing loss. The reasoning? Well, those with hearing loss can sometimes seem confused to others, as they simply can't interpret what is being said.
Thanks to an increase in awareness and better education, this is now extremely rare. That being said, the common links between these two conditions are fast becoming undeniable. Studies continue to show that people with hearing loss are at a higher risk of developing dementia than those with 'normal' hearing.
A useful example would be the research undertaken at the John Hopkins University in Baltimore and the National Institute on Ageing. Here they focused on monitoring the size of participants' brains using MRI screening over a period of ten years. We all know that the brain does in fact get smaller with age and that people with a significant amount of brain tissue loss are at more risk of developing dementia.
This particular study showed that said participants who had a hearing loss had significant brain tissue reduction when compared to those who didn't have hearing loss - especially those with a severe to profound level of hearing loss. In fact, they lost an extra cubic centimetre of brain tissue each year.
Arguably there are a few suggestions surrounding this topic. One is that it is due to the lack of brain stimulation. If parts of the brain are simply not being used its natural plasticity will send energy elsewhere. The second is that the areas of the brain that process sound and language are also involved in processing memory. As this area of the brain shrinks as a result of hearing loss - the memory is affected at the same time.
Another theory is that those with hearing loss naturally need to concentrate more on what is being said, as well as hearing the sounds around them and focusing on visual cues. This all means the brain has to work a little harder and results in straining the brain and ultimately cognitive overload. It also means that there is less accessible energy for memory and processing tasks.
Those who are at high risk of developing dementia often suffer from social isolation and depression, which is also the same for those who are losing their hearing. As it becomes harder to communicate with friends and family - most start to withdraw themselves. Social occasions can be challenging for people with hearing loss and they can feel isolated in these scenarios.
Like those with dementia, who get anxious about feeling embarrassed or maybe people thinking they are mad, people with hearing loss get anxious about speaking out of context and perhaps people thinking they are silly. In both cases, they can just give in to social isolation, withdraw and begin to feel depressed.
Even though the cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and dementia is yet to be fully proven, it is abundantly clear that they are related in some way. Not all people with hearing loss will develop dementia, but they are statistically at a higher risk of doing so. It is also clear that an early diagnosis and treatment plan for hearing loss can slow the rate of brain tissue reduction by keeping the brain stimulated - avoiding cognitive overload.
Wearing hearing aids is one of the most successful forms of hearing loss treatments. Keeping you socially active and connected for a greater quality of life. Those who treat diagnosed hearing loss are proven to lose less brain tissue over time and with it reduce the risk of developing dementia.
If you have any questions regarding this article, hearing aids, hearing healthcare or you are concerned about your hearing and would like a free hearing test, please call us free on 0800 567 7621 to speak with one of our audiology experts.
Read Next: The importance of being more dementia-aware
When we refer to a product as 'New', we mean that the product is new to the market.
When we refer to a product as 'Superseded', we mean that there is a newer range available which replaces and improves on this product.
When we refer to a product as an 'Older Model', we mean that it is has been superseded by at least two more recent hearing aid ranges.