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Dementia Awareness Week 2024 - Hearing loss and dementia - is there a link?

Kimberley Bradshaw - Head of Marketing
Written By:
Kimberley Bradshaw

Head of Customer Content Experience

David - Audiologist for Hearing Aid UK
Medically Reviewed By:

Audiology Expert at Hearing Aid UK

Updated: 13th May 2024
Dementia Awareness Week 2024

Dementia Awareness Week 2024

Hearing loss & dementia - Is there a link? 


Dementia Awareness Week 2024, 13th-19th May 2024

#TalkDementia #dementiaawarenessweek #dementiaactionweek

Dementia Awareness Week is a significant annual campaign that aims to increase understanding and support for those living with dementia, as well as their families and caregivers. Usually taking place in the second week of May, this observance seeks to raise awareness about dementia, its impact on cognitive function, and the challenges faced by those affected.

In this article, we hope to briefly educate the public about the signs and symptoms of dementia, promote early detection, and encourage empathy and compassion for those living with this condition. It also highlights available resources, services, and research advancements in dementia care.


What is dementia?

Dementia is a term used to describe a decline in cognitive function, including memory, language, and problem-solving skills. It is often associated with aging, but it can also occur in younger people due to a variety of medical conditions or injuries. Dementia can range in severity from mild to severe, and it can have a significant impact on a person's daily life and the lives of their loved ones.

Some would arguably say that there is a strong link between hearing loss and dementia. Studies have shown that older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer's disease than those without hearing loss.  


We now have a better dementia awareness

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 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 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.


Memory, stimulation, and cognitive overload

Another reason for the link between hearing loss and dementia is that the brain regions that are responsible for processing sound also play a role in other cognitive functions, such as memory and attention. When these regions of the brain are damaged by hearing loss, it can lead to problems with cognitive function as well.

For instance, if parts of the brain are simply not being used their 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 - 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 which results in straining the brain and ultimately cognitive overload.  It also means that there is less accessible energy for memory and processing tasks.

Additionally, it is thought that the brain may compensate for hearing loss by redirecting resources from other cognitive processes to the task of understanding speech, which can lead to cognitive decline over time.

Dementia Awareness Week UK

Alzheimer's and Dementia Awareness Week 2024

Social isolation and depression increase the risk


Isolation and depression are common challenges for those with hearing loss and dementia

One reason for this link is that hearing loss can lead to social isolation, which is a risk factor for dementia. When people have difficulty hearing, they may withdraw from social activities and have less opportunity for cognitive stimulation. This can lead to a decline in cognitive function and an increased risk of developing dementia.

Therefore, 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.


It's not all doom and gloom

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 - and 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.


Hearing loss and dementia conclusion

Overall, the link between hearing loss and dementia is complex and multifacteted However, it is clear that addressing hearing loss is an important step in reducing the risk of developing dementia.  Hearing loss is common in older adults and early intervention is important to address it and prevent cognitive decline.

There are several treatment options available such as hearing aids and communication devices that can help people with hearing loss stay socially engaged and reduce their risk of developing dementia.

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Dementia Awareness Week 2024

Need more support with your or a loved one's hearing?  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

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Meet David, Audiology Expert at Hearing Aid UK

David graduated as an audiologist in 2003. He worked for many years dispensing hearing aids for the high street chains and later as an independent audiologist before joining the management team at Hearing Aid UK.

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Common FAQs when researching hearing aids and hearing loss

Is this the best model for me?

If you are looking at this page then it is likely that an audiologist has suggested that you purchase this particular hearing aid, so is this the best model for you?

In general, any audiologist will always be recommending to you the model that best suits your needs. Here is a useful check list to make sure that is the case.

  • Audiologist level of knowledge. The audiologist you have seen will hopefully have a wide knowledge of all available hearing aids, however some will only be familiar with a small number of brands and therefore may not really be in a position to know which model is the best for you. It is OK to challenge their recommendation and ask them to justify why this particular brand is the one for you.
  • Do research. Read about the hearing aid that was recommended. Does it seem like it will suit your lifestyle? Does it have more or less features than you need? 
  • Be aware of sales targets. Many high street retailers have specific tie-ins to a particular manufacturer/brand. The hearing aid they have suggested may still be the correct one for you, but do your research so that you know why they might have recommended it.

If in doubt, feel free to give us a call. That's what we're here for.

Do I need one hearing aid or two?

If you have a significant hearing loss in both ears, you should be wearing two hearing aids. Here are the audiological reasons why:

Localisation. The brain decodes information from both ears and compares and contrasts them. By analysing the miniscule time delays as well as the difference in loudness of each sound reaching the ears, the person is able to accurately locate a sound source. Simply put, if you have better hearing on one side than the other, you can't accurately tell what direction sounds are coming from.

Less amplification required. A phenomena known as “binaural summation” means that the hearing aids can be set at a lower and more natural volume setting than than if you wore only one hearing aid.

Head shadow effect. High frequencies, the part of your hearing that gives clarity and meaning to speech sounds, cannot bend around your head. Only low frequencies can. Therefore if someone is talking on your unaided side you are likely to hear that they are speaking, but be unable to tell what they have said.

Noise reduction. The brain has it’s own built in noise reduction which is only really effective when it is receiving information from both ears. If only one ear is aided, even with the best hearing aid in the world, it will be difficult for you to hear in background noise as your brain is trying to retain all of the sounds (including background noise) rather than filtering it out.

Sound quality. We are designed to hear in stereo. Only hearing from one side sounds a lot less natural to us.

What are the benefits of rechargeable hearing aids?

For most people, the main benefit of a rechargeable hearing aid is simple convenience. We are used to plugging in our phones and other devices overnight for them to charge up. 

For anybody with poor dexterity or issues with their fingers, having a rechargeable aid makes a huge difference as normal hearing aid batteries are quite small and some people find them fiddly to change.

One downside is that if you forget to charge your hearing aid, then it is a problem that can't be instantly fixed. For most a 30 minute charge will get you at least two or three hours of hearing, but if you are the type of person who is likely to forget to plug them in regularly then you're probably better off with standard batteries.

Rechargeable aids are also a little bit bigger and are only available in behind the ear models.

Finally, just like with a mobile phone, the amount of charge you get on day one is not going to be the same as you get a few years down the line. Be sure to ask what the policy is with the manufacturer warranty when it comes to replacing the battery.


Are behind the ear aids better than in the ear aids?

For most people, the answer is yes. But it's never that simple.

The majority of hearing problems affect the high frequencies a lot more than the low ones. Therefore open fitting hearing aids sound a lot more natural and ones that block your ears up can make your own voice sound like you are talking with your head in a bucket. Therefore in-ear aids tend to be less natural.

However the true answer is we can't tell until we have had a look in your ears to assess the size of your ear canal, and until we have tested your hearing to see which frequencies are being affected.

People with wider ear canals tend to have more flexibility, also there are open fitting modular CIC hearing aids now that do not block your ears.

There is also the age old rule to consider, that a hearing aid will not help you if it's sat in the drawer gathering dust. If the only hearing aid you would be happy wearing is one that people can't see, then that's what you should get.

Most people can adapt to any type of hearing aid, as long as they know what to expect. Have an honest conversation with your audiologist as to what your needs are.

What are channels, and how many do I need?

Generally speaking, six or more. Unless it's none at all.

The number of channels a hearing aid has is often a simplistic way an audiologist will use to explain why one hearing aid is better than another, but channels are complex and it is really not that straightforward.

Hearing aids amplify sounds of different frequencies by different amounts. Most people have lost more high frequencies than low and therefore need more amplification in the high frequencies. The range of sounds you hear are split into frequency bands or channels and the hearing aids are set to provide the right amount of hearing at each frequency level.

Less than six channels and this cannot be done with much accuracy, so six is the magic number. However, a six channel aid is typically very basic with few other features and is suitable only for hearing a single speaker in a quiet room. The number of channels is not what you should be looking at, it's more the rest of the technology that comes with them.

As a final note, different manufacturers have different approaches. One method is not necessarily better than any other. For example some manufacturers have as many as 64 channels in their top aids. Most tend to have between 17 and 20. One manufacturer has no channels at all.

Where can I get the hearing aids covered?

Hearing aids are easily lost, misplaced or damaged and typically are one of the most expensive personal possessions an individual can own. We offer hearing aid warranty cover for £80 per year per aid.  Find out more here

How much does the hearing test cost?

All our audiologists use the very latest technology and provide the full range of tests to accurately measure your hearing for free.  Find out about what we offer all our customers here

Do home visits cost extra?

Hearing Aid UK offers all their customers free home visiting services and home visits for hearing aids - Including hearing tests, fittings, maintenance, check-ups and much more in the comfort of your own home and at your convenience.  Find out more information here

How come you're much cheaper than other places?

Here, at Hearing Aid UK, we are dedicated to offering low hearing aid prices. We achieve this by having no head office and low marketing costs.   Our hearing aid prices are amongst the lowest you will find anywhere in the world.

Watch our video about our hearing healthcare services below

Other pages you might find useful

Best Hearing Aids 2024
View Best Hearing Aids 2024
Audiology Home Visits
View Audiology Home Visits
Hearing Tests at Home UK
View Hearing Tests at Home UK
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