Could a Hearing Aid Prevent Dementia?

Posted in: Hearing News,New Articles  |  February 18, 2013 
Could a Hearing Aid Prevent Dementia?

What You Need to Know

With age comes a new set of health concerns, mostly those we didn’t usually consider at age 25 or 30: the aches and pains that seem to come out of nowhere; reading glasses; new diet rules to keep the heart happy; and yes, maybe some hearing concerns.

When it comes to hearing trouble, you need to know some good and some bad news. We’ll save the better part for last.

Doctors are proving that there’s a real link between hearing loss and dementia. The more significant the hearing loss, the more likely it is that a person will develop those cognitive issues. On the brighter side, now that researchers are aware of this tie, people (and their docs) can watch out for associated health issues, and hopefully act quickly when action is needed.

Here’s what the research shows us so far:

  • Dr. Frank Lin, an expert from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, studied more than 600 people, ages 36 to 90, for 18 years. None of them had cognitive issues when the research began.
  • People with hearing loss of mild, moderate or severe degrees were two times, three times and five times more likely to develop dementia than those with no hearing concerns.
  • The increased risk remains the same, even when factors like age, high blood pressure and diabetes were factored out.

Doctors still aren’t sure why the link exists, but these are some possible explanations:

  • Isolation and loneliness–Hearing loss can keep people from seeing friends and loved ones, and isolation is a known risk factor for dementia and other conditions.
  • Cognitive load–As Dr. Lin explains it to the New York Times, “cognitive load” is the burden the brain feels when it has to work harder to understand sounds and words — which leaves little energy left to think and form a response.
  • Another health factor that causes both conditions–Researchers are looking into the possibility that a single, unknown issue might cause hearing loss and dementia. Some studies have even shown a tie between hearing loss and heart disease, which could further support this idea.

According to Dr. Lin’s research, just using a hearing aid wasn’t shown to truly reduce the risk of dementia. However, Dr. Lin is questioning whether that’s true. It’s difficult to gauge whether hearing aids are being used properly or consistently when research subjects are simply self-reporting their information for a study.

Dr. Lin’s next study will consider things like how long hearing aids have been used, whether they’ve been fitted and maintained properly, and what kind of personalized counseling people have been given to know how to use their devices.

What our own Dr. Neil Sperling has to say about this:

“Unfortunately, hearing loss remains untreated in a great number of Americans.  It comes as no surprise to hearing healthcare practitioners and to family members that there is now a scientifically proven association between hearing loss and dementia.  The withdrawal of a loved one from family conversation and activities is a well known consequence of hearing loss.  This important research finding associating hearing loss with dementia may help motivate the hearing impaired to take action.”

So what can you do?

As doctors, we recommend getting your hearing tested — and it’s urgent that you do this regularly. Studies have shown that only one in seven adults who could get help from hearing aids use them. Hearing loss can start at any age, and maintaining the situation can prove key to satisfaction and the quality of daily life.

If you have any questions, give us a call. We’ll keep you updated as the research comes in.