Dementia or Hearing Loss

Are You Confusing Your Loved Ones with Hearing Loss for Dementia?

Studies show that the severity of the hearing loss is associated with severe cognitive decline. Low to mid-frequency hearing loss is associated with cognitive impairment and depression, anxiety, and stress. Hearing aids could delay cognitive decline. Treating hearing loss can lower the risk of Dementia in some adults. Untreated hearing loss can lead to considerable, negative social, psychological, cognitive, and health effects and can seriously impact professional and personal life, at times leading to isolation and depression. Age-related hearing loss is associated with a reduced volume of the brain and changes in brain pathways and metabolic activity of the brain.

If an individual cannot hear clearly what is being communicated or asked, their response will not be appropriate. An appropriate response is quickly linked with cognitive decline and dementia by family members, and healthcare providers often miss the subtle sign. Family members do not always understand why the response they get is inappropriate.

Researchers believe the connection between hearing loss and dementia may be due to those with hearing loss straining to decode sounds, increasing the brain's cognitive load. According to Frank Li, M.D., PhD., at Johns Hopkins University: "Hearing loss can make the brain work harder, forcing it to strain to hear and fill in the gaps. That comes at the expense of other thinking and memory systems. Another possibility is: Hearing loss causes the aging brain to shrink more quickly. A third possibility is that hearing loss leads people to be less socially engaged, which is hugely important to remain intellectually stimulated. If you can't hear very well, you may not go out as much, so the brain is less engaged and active."

I strongly encourage you to take your loved one to their healthcare provider, audiologist, and/or ENT if they are showing signs of dementia, confusion, and or have difficulty hearing.

Dr. P. Heir

Sources: NIDCD; NIH Senior Health; Better Hearing Institute; John Hopkins Medicine.