Hearing loss and dementia are both medical conditions that are commonly associated with old age, among other ailments. While they are often seen as two separate issues as part of one’s natural ageing process, the links between hearing loss and dementia – including Alzheimer’s – are closer than you think.
This might be surprising, but hearing loss is actually a significant risk factor of dementia. Various studies, including those from Singapore, have shown that those who suffer from auditory problems are most likely to develop dementia – two to five times, to be exact, depending on the degree of hearing loss. Of course, the more serious your untreated hearing loss is, the higher your chances of getting dementia.
With hearing loss, the parts of your brain linked to auditory function get used less and less. With lack of stimulation comes degeneration, where the grey matter in those areas start shrinking bit by bit. Negative changes to your brain structure caused by this inactivity and loss of brain tissue will inevitably contribute to an accelerated risk of dementia, where one’s basic cognitive abilities including speech and memory will be impaired.
When a person is constantly struggling to hear, the brain must work harder to process sounds in order for them to comprehend what others are saying. This results in a heavier cognitive load. In simpler terms, the mental power that would otherwise be used for other functions like thinking and remembering will be depleted on trying to hear properly.
In turn, one’s memory, learning capacity, and ability to perform other tasks in general will be reduced over time, again being a possible contributing factor to dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Dealing with hearing loss is never easy, and it is common for those experiencing it to feel demoralized and mentally drained – especially when they are having trouble understanding their loved ones in simple day to day conversations. As a result, they may tend to shy away from interacting with others and start isolating themselves more and more.
By having fewer interactions with others, one’s mind will slow down more rapidly, resulting in a greater risk of dementia.
If someone close to you is dealing with hearing loss, offer them moral support so that they won’t feel so lonely and fearful on their journey. Some ways to do so include accompanying them on their medical appointments, or simply by checking in on them and initiating a conversation – you’ll be surprised by how something as simple as a chat can help lift a person’s mood.
As dementia is incurable, wearing a hearing aid cannot reverse its effects. However, doing so can still help prevent even further cognitive decline. As with any medical condition, early detection and prevention of hearing loss – and resulting dementia – is always better than cure. Hence, it is most ideal to go for regular auditory tests as one ages and get fitted for a hearing aid during the early stages of hearing loss before things escalate and become severe.
While getting used to a hearing aid may take some time at first, the benefits are numerous past that initial stage. By using a hearing aid, you will free up the portions of your brain that are overloaded in struggling to process sounds, thus allowing for better ease of carrying out other activities and preventing dementia-causing debilitation.
Being able to hear clearly again via a hearing aid can also do wonders for improving a person’s overall mood and mental health. When one is confident in hearing and speaking, social relationships and interactions will be easier to maintain. Having conversations with others is a form of mind stimulation, which helps keep the brain healthy and active against dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In a nutshell, the earlier you get your hearing issues treated, the longer you will be able to delay the onset of dementia.
“Seeing how hearing loss was robbing [my mother] of the simple things in life, I took it upon myself to contact Ernest Poh at The Hearing Centre and scheduled an appointment. I will admit my mom wasn’t very happy with me that morning, but her demeanor instantly changed the minute she met Ernest. His “bedside office manner” was that of a saint – he spoke to her in a way she understood, and her anxieties were instantly alleviated. My mom was totally receptive to his recommendations, and she left his office truly looking forward to getting her new hearing aids in a few days. When we returned, the hearing aids fit and operated perfectly with no adjustments necessary” – Debbie Brells