Could losing your hearing be a sign of things to come?
Maybe, suggests some new research that found older people who had trouble hearing were more likely to develop dementia down the road.
However, there is some good news: hearing aids, which are now available over the counter at much lower prices, may reduce the risk.
There is evidence that hearing loss can cause structural brain changes. It is possible that missing out on sound can limit input needed to keep the brain robust, potentially leading to atrophy and dementia.
Further, the constant struggle to hear can make your brain work even harder, causing fatigue that could potentially lead to trouble with thinking and memory.
Even more, people with hearing loss may withdraw from social events, and staying engaged with the world and the people around you is known to help stave off dementia. Social isolation can lead to further and faster degradation of cognitive function.
About one million Americans between the ages of 65 and 74, and half of those who are older, have hearing loss that is severe enough to effect their quality of life, according to the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. The majority of people, however, do not use hearing aids.
The new study looked at more than 2,400 seniors, half of which were over 80. It found a clear link between hearing loss severity and dementia.
Results showed that people with moderate-to-severe hearing loss had a 61 percent higher risk for developing dementia than those with normal hearing. It also found that people with moderate-to-severe hearing loss, that used hearing aids, had a 32 percent lower risk of dementia than those who did not use a hearing aid.
Hearing aids may be a valuable tool in helping to improve quality of life and reduce the risk of dementia for people struggling with hearing. Staying socially active can also play a role in maintaining cognition.
If you notice you’re beginning to experience some hearing difficulty in settings where it normally was not a problem, go have your hearing checked. Getting a hearing aid is easier – and cheaper – than it’s ever been.