Hearing loss is considered a typical part of the aging process: as we grow older, we begin to hear things a little less clearly. Maybe we begin to turn up the volume on the TV, or keep asking our grandkids to speak up when they’re talking to us, or perhaps…we start…where was I going with this…oh ya. Perhaps we start forgetting things.
The general population has a far lower rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s than the elderly population. That’s the reason why loss of memory is considered a neutral part of aging. But could it be that the two are connected somehow? And, even better, what if there were a way to manage hearing loss and also protect your memories and your mental health?
Cognitive Decline And Hearing Loss
With nearly 30 million people in the United States suffering from hearing loss, mental decline and dementia, for the majority of them, isn’t associated with hearing loss. However, if you look in the right direction, the connection is very clear: if you suffer from hearing loss, there is serious risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, according to many studies – even at relatively low levels of hearing impairment.
Mental health problems including anxiety and depression are also quite prevalent in people who have hearing loss. Your ability to socialize can be significantly impacted by hearing loss, cognitive decline, and other mental health issues and that’s the real key here.
Why is Cognitive Decline Related to Hearing Loss?
While there is no concrete finding or definitive evidence that hearing loss leads to cognitive decline and mental health problems, there is clearly some link and several clues that experts are looking at. They have identified two main scenarios which seem to lead to issues: your brain working harder than it would normally have to and social isolation.
Many studies show that loneliness results in anxiety and depression. And people are not as likely to socialize when they suffer from hearing loss. Many people find that it’s too hard to carry on conversations or can’t hear well enough to enjoy things like the movie theater. People who are in this situation tend to start to isolate themselves which can cause mental health issues.
researchers have also found that the brain frequently has to work overtime because the ears aren’t functioning like they should. The region of the brain that’s responsible for understanding sounds, such as voices in a conversation, requires more help from other parts of the brain – namely, the area of the brain that used for memory. This causes cognitive decline to happen much quicker than it normally would.
Using Hearing Aids to Stop Cognitive Decline
Hearing aids restore our ability to hear allowing the brain to use it’s resources in a normal way which is our best defense against cognitive decline and dementia. Research shows that people improved their cognitive functions and had a reduced rate of dementia when they used hearing aids to fight their hearing loss.
As a matter of fact, we would most likely see fewer cases of dementia and cognitive decline if more people actually wore hearing aids. Between 15% and 30% of individuals who require hearing aids actually use them, that’s 4.5 to 9 million people. It’s calculated by the World Health Organization that there are nearly 50 million individuals who have some form of dementia. If hearing aids can decrease that figure by even just a couple of million people, the quality of life for lots of individuals and families will develop exponentially.