If you pay attention to medical news, you may have heard that scientists are discovering connections between hearing loss and dementia. These reports may worry you, especially if you are already experiencing hearing loss.
Fortunately, it's never too late to take steps to protect your hearing and lower your risk of many diseases of aging, including dementia.
At Sharp Hearing Care Professionals, Dr. Kevin Sharim and our team of audiologists and hearing aid specialists stay up to date with all the latest hearing-related medical news. We take your health concerns seriously, and we make sure to provide you with the context you need to optimize your hearing and your health.
Here, we would like to share some important information with you about potential associations between hearing loss and dementia, including steps you can start taking right away to protect your health.
Hearing loss is a common issue affecting older adults. Approximately one-third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have some type of hearing loss. In people over age 75, roughly half have a problem with their hearing, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Similarly, dementia is a common age-related condition. Dementia is a general term used to describe cognitive symptoms such as memory and attention problems, confusion, and trouble making decisions. Although Alzheimer's disease is the most common kind of dementia, there are other types of dementia as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 5 million Americans over the age of 65 have some kind of dementia. That number is expected to increase to 14 million by the year 2060.
Research has shown important links between hearing loss and dementia. For example, a Johns Hopkins study found that dementia risk doubled in people with mild hearing loss, tripled in people with moderate hearing loss, and was five times more common in people with severe hearing problems.
Why would there be a connection? Scientists don't know for sure. But one possibility is that hearing loss causes parts of your brain to atrophy, or waste away. This may make your brain more vulnerable to dementia, especially if you are genetically predisposed to age-related brain conditions.
What's more, having trouble hearing can cause your brain to work overtime figuring out what other people are saying. This could strain the brain in a way that makes it susceptible to dementia.
Another possibility is that factors in the brain that are connected to hearing loss are also connected to dementia. And another theory is that hearing loss causes people to shy away from social interaction. Social isolation contributes to the development of dementia; avoiding friends because you can't hear what they're saying could make dementia more likely.
Protecting your ears and your brain
While scientists study this question further, you can start taking steps today to safeguard your hearing and your cognitive health. Some of these steps include the following:
Take good care of your hearing
Have regular audiology check-ups, follow your ear care provider's advice, wear hearing aids if recommended, and protect your ears from loud noises. Optimizing the hearing ability you do have could help ward off cognitive decline.
Take good care of your overall health
There are many ways to reduce your risk of many age-related health conditions, including getting regular exercise, eating healthy foods, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, managing chronic health conditions such as diabetes, and seeing your primary care physician and specialists regularly.
If you're concerned about dementia, consider following a brain-healthy diet such as the MIND diet, which is rich in anti-dementia foods such as berries, leafy greens, and whole grains.
Socialize with others
It's tempting to avoid spending time with friends and family when you have trouble hearing them. But social isolation can be harmful to your physical health, mental health, and well-being. If hearing loss is interfering with your social life, tell us. We will do everything in our power to make your hearing the best it can be.
Help for all your hearing needs
We want to help you optimize your health and your quality of life, as well as your hearing. Schedule an appointment with our care team by contacting one of our offices, which are conveniently located in Oxnard, Santa Barbara, West Hills, and Santa Monica, California.