I have always been sceptical about any direct link between hearing loss and dementia. This subject is of particular interest to me and when I have considered the various studies that have come out over the last 30 years I have never been convinced. "Correlation is not causation" as they say and to be blunt, older people are the main demographic to develop hearing loss and older people are the main demographic to develop dementia does not mean that hearing loss causes dementia.
I admit to having had some bias on the subject as well. There is a national hearing aid company that I shall not mention by name that for many years has had dementia as the main aspect of their "sales training". I have spoken to too many of their potential customers who were left very upset after being browbeaten for an hour about how if they didn't buy hearing aids from them that they would surely start to suffer from dementia in no time at all.
I think that this is despicable behaviour and due to how cross it makes me, I, therefore, chose not to believe in any link between hearing loss and dementia. I have always stuck rigidly to the facts when asked, "there have been many studies for many years and the thing they all have in common is no definitive results."
I have now changed my mind. I would obviously encourage you all to do your own research into the subject to come to your own conclusions and a good starting point is to have a read of Professor Gill Livingston's recent interview with The Telegraph. Professor Livingston is a highly credible source, she was the lead author for the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention and care so therefore certainly knows the subject as well as anyone, as a result, I am now a believer.
Written below are some excerpts from that article* and other related information.
Experiencing hearing loss as you get older, known as Presbycusis, is common and frankly more than an inconvenience and now Professor Livingston states that hearing loss is the largest preventable risk factor for dementia In fact, she believes that 8 in every 100 dementia cases are a result of hearing loss.
Hearing loss is commonly linked to cognitive decline and stimulation. When your brain is actively stimulated this results in physical changes that are positive. Such cognitively stimulating environments could be actively partaking in conversation. Due to you not being able to predict what they are going to talk about, combined with the need for your response - you hear various points of view and this forces your brain to work hard.
People with 'normal' hearing have an active brain that can pick out speech sounds from challenging background noise, distinguish them and understand them. If you can't hear what is being said there is a high probability that you will start avoiding people and social gatherings.
Over time, without amplification, your perception of sound can change. This means there is no social cognitive stimulation, which can lead to depression, which is also known to increase the risk of dementia. However, there is an answer to this problem - wearing a hearing aid can prevent the risk of developing dementia completely.
“From the population studies out there, we can see that people who use hearing aids don’t have any higher risk of dementia than people who don’t have a hearing impairment.”**
In order for the auditory cortex to function successfully, it needs to be used like all the other muscles in your body. Your brain is no different - if you have untreated hearing loss then parts of your brain may start to weaken. If you stop using a part of your brain or signals can no longer reach it then the neural pathways can break down. This is why it is important to seek professional help, receive a quick diagnosis, get the best treatment going forward for your future hearing healthcare and reduce the risk of dementia.
The absence of a cure means that there is consistently focused research on prevention, as more and more people are touched by this disease. For example, we’ve all probably at some point read, whilst the superfood awareness trend hit the lifestyle scene, that food of this ilk confers health benefits that could prevent dementia. Other similar myths and misconceptions can potentially be more harmful than good, as they can create stigmatisation and barriers to diagnosis and care.
This is why research and awareness are key to understanding this disease and to becoming more dementia-aware through fact-based articles from experts in the field, such as Professor Livingston.
If you'd like to ask any questions regarding this article, you think you or someone else might have hearing loss - then it is important that you seek professional guidance sooner rather than later. If you would like hearing healthcare support from an audiology expert- please call us free on 0800 567 7621
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