Hearing loss is thought of as a normal part of the aging process: as we age, we start to hear things a little less clearly. Maybe we need to keep asking the grandkids to speak up when they talk, or we have to turn the volume up on the TV, or perhaps…we begin to…what was I going to say…oh ya. Maybe we begin to forget things.
Loss of memory is also commonly considered a regular part of aging because dementia and Alzheimer’s are far more common in the senior citizen population than the general population at large. But is it possible that the two are connected somehow? And, better still, what if there was a way to manage hearing loss and also preserve your memories and mental health?
Cognitive Decline And Hearing Loss
With about 30 million individuals in the United States suffering from hearing loss, cognitive decline and dementia, for the majority of them, isn’t linked to hearing loss. However, the connection is quite clear if you look in the right places: research has shown that there is a substantial risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-like conditions if you also have hearing loss – even at fairly low levels of hearing loss.
Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are also fairly prevalent in people who suffer from hearing loss. The main point is that hearing loss, mental health concerns, and cognitive decline all have an effect on our ability to socialize.
Why Does Hearing Loss Impact Cognitive Decline?
While cognitive decline and mental health problems haven’t been definitively proven to be connected to hearing loss, experts are looking at several clues that point us in that direction. There are two principal scenarios they have pinpointed that they believe contribute 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 anxiety and depression. And people are not as likely to socialize when they are dealing with hearing loss. Many people find that it’s too hard to carry on conversations or can’t hear well enough to enjoy activities like going to the movies. These actions lead to a path of isolation, which can lead to mental health problems.
Also, researchers have found that the brain often has to work extra hard to make up for the fact that the ears don’t hear as well as they normally would. When this takes place, other areas of the brain, like the one used for memory, are diverted for hearing and comprehending sound. This overburdened the brain and leads to the onset of cognitive decline much faster than if the brain could process sounds correctly.
How to Stop Cognitive Decline With Hearing Aids
Hearing aids restore our hearing permitting the brain to use it’s resources in a normal way which is our best defense against cognitive decline and dementia. Studies show that people increased their cognitive functions and were at a lower risk for developing dementia when they handled their hearing loss using hearing aids.
In fact, we would most likely see fewer instances of dementia and cognitive decline if more people wore hearing aids. Between 15% and 30% of individuals who require hearing aids even use them, that’s 4.5 to 9 million people. The World Health Organization reports that there are almost 50 million individuals who deal with some form of dementia. The quality of life will be drastically enhanced for individuals and families if hearing aids can lessen that number by even a couple million people.