Untreated Hearing Loss Linked to Dementia

Nearly 27 million Americans age 50 and older have hearing loss, however studies show that only one in seven uses a hearing aid. Those with hearing loss wait, on average, 7-10 years before seeking help for their hearing loss. During that time, overall communication becomes more difficult, and the risk for social isolation and comorbid health conditions increase. Recent research from Johns Hopkins suggests that untreated hearing loss is linked with increased difficulty walking, falls and even dementia.

Dr. Lin, a leading researcher from Johns Hopkins says “Brain scans show us that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain,” Lin says. “Hearing loss also contributes to social isolation. You may not want to be with people as much, and when you are you may not engage in conversation as much. These factors may contribute to dementia.”

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a collection of symptoms that can stem from a variety of diseases that cause a loss in cognitive function. Symptoms occurs when neurons cease functioning, lose connections with other neurons, and die. Cognitive functions including memory, reasoning, language skills and attention can be affected by dementia.

Can Hearing Aids Prevent Dementia?

The answer is unclear. The current body of evidence only shows a correlation between hearing loss and increased risk of dementia. What we do know is that early amplification improves overall quality of life and helps maintain social engagement, both associated with improved cognitive abilities. Providing access to sounds helps keep your brain active!

As the global population ages there is an increased focus on the link between hearing loss and dementia. Patients should team up with their audiologists to consider how hearing loss may impact their overall cognitive health and quality of life. Schedule an appointment today if you or your loved one is showing signs of memory loss. Hearing loss can often mimic the early stages of cognitive decline and should be ruled out during cognitive assessment.

Dementia Friendly Clinic

The UNC Hearing and Communication Center is proud to share its designation as a “Dementia Friendly Clinic.” Our clinicians and staff participated in training with Dementia Friendly Orange County to learn more ways to serve patients and their families with cognitive decline. We also have years of partnership with local memory care and assistive living facilities, providing even bed-side hearing care and follow up. Coordination with care teams and nursing staff is crucial to making sure that hearing care is consistent and that devices are well maintained. We routinely provide resources, detailed orders and in-service training for care providers of patients with dementia.