Millions of older Americans have hearing loss, and while some are quick to seek treatment, others live with untreated hearing loss for many years before scheduling their first hearing test. You might think your hearing loss isn’t a big deal, but researchers show that seeking hearing loss treatment could help prevent or delay dementia.
Hearing Loss Affects Your Health and Wellbeing
If you have hearing loss, you’ve noticed that it’s harder to follow conversations than before. Background noise makes it more difficult to hear, and you often find yourself asking people to repeat themselves. Despite these signs, you probably think hearing loss isn’t a big deal. “The general perception is that hearing loss is a relatively inconsequential part of aging,” explains Frank Lin, an otologist and researcher at Johns Hopkins University.
However, Lin points out that hearing loss has some profound consequences. Those with hearing loss are more likely to suffer from social isolation, anxiety, and depression. They’re also more at risk of a fall or accident. Hearing loss even affects the brain, and untreated hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline and an earlier onset of dementia.
Linking Hearing Loss and Dementia
Lin has published several studies showing the links between hearing loss and dementia. His research shows that hearing loss can affect cognitive functioning, and people with untreated hearing loss have difficulty with concentration, memory, and planning. Lin found that those with hearing loss experience far more cognitive decline than their hearing peers. He also discovered that people with more severe hearing loss have higher rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
How Hearing Loss Affects the Brain
Lin doesn’t know exactly how hearing loss can lead to dementia, but he does know that hearing loss affects the brain. Living with untreated hearing loss puts a lot of strain on the brain, increasing your cognitive load. You spend all day straining to hear sounds around you and struggling to follow conversations. Your brain has to work extremely hard to help you make sense of the sounds and make up for all the gaps in your hearing. You will spend all your energy trying to follow a conversation, and don’t have any brain power left to understand the meaning behind the words. You can’t put what you’ve heard into memory, or concentrate on tasks while your brain is struggling to hear.
Hearing loss can also change the structure of your brain. When certain areas of the brain aren’t being used, like the parts of the auditory system dedicated to the sounds you can no longer hear, these areas start to shrink. Unused areas receive less oxygenated blood and may start to deteriorate. In fact, brain scans show that people with hearing loss have less gray matter in their brains. As these areas are damaged or die, you’ll have a higher risk of dementia.
How Treating Hearing Loss Can Prevent or Delay Dementia
The good news is that treating hearing loss can help prevent or delay dementia! Treating hearing loss helps you improve your cognitive abilities and keep you mind sharp. Hearing aids help you hear all the sounds around you without straining to hear. Your brain won’t be under so much strain, and you’ll feel energetic at the end of a long day. When you’re able to hear, both your memory and concentration will improve.
Another way treating hearing loss can prevent dementia is through effortless communication. Hearing loss makes it hard to have conversations with your loved ones, and can lead to social isolation or feelings of loneliness. Treating hearing loss helps you participate in all the social events you love, and form deep connections with your family and friends. Not only is this good for your overall happiness and wellbeing, it also exercises the brain, and helps prevent dementia.
Treating hearing loss will also prevent cell death in the brain. When you wear hearing aids, the auditory regions of your brain receive a lot of information about all the sounds around you. There won’t be large areas that aren’t receiving signals, and you won’t have unused areas that may deteriorate.
When you seek treatment for your hearing loss, you can prevent or delay the onset of dementia and enjoy your golden years with great hearing. Contact us today to learn more!