Treat Hearing Loss to Reduce Dementia Risk

August 29, 2023
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The connection between untreated hearing loss and dementia is becoming increasingly clear, and it has less to do with our ears than it does with the brain’s role in the hearing process. Intervention for hearing loss is still listed as one of the 12 ‘Modifiable Factors’ that the Lancet Commission, a global expert group, says can lessen the risk of dementia in later life. 

There is optimism that we can reduce the number of people who develop dementia in the future as we continue to collect data and investigate the intricate symphony of brain aging. Recent research reveals how early hearing loss compels our brains to adapt.

The Risk Of Dementia

The typical onset age of dementia in the United States is 83 years old, and it is a condition that primarily affects the elderly. Although it’s by far the most prevalent, Alzheimer’s disease is simply one form of dementia. Dementia causes problems with memory, reasoning, language, and other cognitive abilities.

One misconception about dementia is that it’s a natural consequence of aging. As we understand more about the condition and its causes, it is clear that dementia is a disease and not an expected outcome. 

Because of the way that loss of sound information affects the brain, treating hearing loss can lower dementia risks. Dementia risk is significantly increased in those with moderate to severe hearing loss, according to studies, and it even doubles for those with mild hearing loss.

Hearing Loss And Its Cognitive Impacts

Researchers at The Ohio State University made a startling discovery: young people who show indicators of hearing loss also show signs of future cognitive impairments. They were screening for changes in brain activity when processing basic versus complex sentence patterns, and they found some unexpected activity in the data of certain subjects who had shown signs of hearing loss during the screening procedure. 

The young people with hearing loss were using both hemispheres of their brain to process the spoken sentences, unlike their normally hearing peers. It defied expectation because experts don’t expect to see this particular pattern emerge until a person reaches their 50s. 

How The Brain Responds To Hearing Loss

Because they don’t have to exert as much effort, the brains of young people with normal hearing typically employ solely the left cortex to understand language. When people’s hearing starts to deteriorate, the brain has to recruit’ the right cortex to help with the extra labor involved in listening.

Hearing loss has a significant effect on the brain’s processing centers. Their task is to interpret the vast amounts of auditory information efficiently transmitted by our ears. When hearing declines, the brain receives a diminished signal. It’s like attempting to put together a jigsaw puzzle when you’re missing one third of the pieces. Without these important pieces of information, the effort required to complete the picture amps up. 

Why Listening Habits Determine Hearing Health

The world today is noisier and more wired than ever before. Earbuds and headphones are everywhere and they pose a serious risk to hearing health. When turned up to their maximum level, earbuds can produce sounds that are up to 90 to 110 decibels. 

What’s more, we don’t just plug in to listen to a song or album. Now, we go to school, work, socialize and get our entertainment online. In how many instances are headphones being used? The answer is more often than not. 

Prioritize Good Listening Behaviors

By setting a good example in this regard, we can have a significant impact on the actions of the children in our lives. Be aware of the sounds coming from your devices and the environment. Keep the volume at no more than two-thirds of its maximum setting at all times. 

Get out of there or buy some earplugs if it’s too noisy. There aren’t many rock shows that warrant the risk to your long-term hearing and brain health. 

You may show that your hearing health is a top priority by scheduling routine checkups for you and your loved ones.

Schedule A Hearing Consultation

Are you ready to take charge of your hearing health? Plan a hearing consultation to assess any possible damage to your hearing and prevent increased risk of dementia. We’ll then determine if you’re a good candidate for therapy and help you take the next steps toward better hearing.