Hearing loss is generally accepted as just another part of the aging process: we begin to hear things less clearly as we get older. Maybe we need to keep asking the grandkids to repeat themselves when they talk, or we have to turn the volume up on the TV, or maybe…we start…what was I going to say…oh ya. Perhaps we start forgetting things.
Memory loss is also often thought to be a normal part of aging as dementia and Alzheimer’s are far more common in the older population than the general population. But is it possible that the two are somehow connected? And, even better, what if there was a way for you to manage hearing loss and also preserve your memories and mental health?
Hearing Loss And Mental Decline
With almost 30 million people in the United States who have hearing loss, cognitive decline and dementia, for the majority of them, isn’t associated with hearing loss. However, if you look in the right direction, the connection is very clear: studies show that there is a serious risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-like disorders if you also have hearing loss – even if you have relatively mild hearing loss.
Mental health problems including depression and anxiety are also fairly prevalent in people who have hearing loss. Your ability to socialize can be significantly impacted by hearing loss, cognitive decline, and other mental health problems and that’s the real key here.
Why is Cognitive Decline Connected to Hearing Loss?
While cognitive decline and mental health issues haven’t been definitively proven to be connected to hearing loss, experts are looking at several clues that point us in that direction. They have pinpointed two main situations which seem to lead to issues: your brain working harder than it would normally have to and social isolation.
Many studies show that loneliness goes hand in hand with depression and anxiety. And people are not as likely to socialize when they suffer from hearing loss. Many people find it’s too hard to have conversations or can’t hear well enough to enjoy things like the movie theater. These actions lead down a path of isolation, which can lead to mental health issues.
Additionally, researchers have found that the brain often has to work extra hard because the ears are not functioning like they should. When this occurs, other regions of the brain, such as the one responsible for memory, are diverted for hearing and understanding sound. This overburdened the brain and leads to the onset of cognitive decline much quicker than if the brain was processing sounds correctly.
Using Hearing Aids to Stop Cognitive Decline
Hearing aids are our first defense against cognitive decline, mental health problems, and dementia. Research shows that patients increased their cognitive functions and were at a reduced chances for developing dementia when they used hearing aids to combat their hearing loss.
Actually, if more people wore their hearing aids, we might see less cases of mental health problems and cognitive decline. Between 15% and 30% of people who require hearing aids actually use them, that’s 4.5 to 9 million people. It’s estimated by the World Health Organization that there are almost 50 million people who have some form of dementia. If hearing aids can decrease that figure by even just a couple of million people, the quality of life for many people and families will improve exponentially.