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A Link Between Untreated Hearing Loss and Dementia

January 9th, 2012 by qcurrie

A recent study published in the medical journal “Archives of Neurology” by researchers at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland gives even more evidence for the need to identify and address hearing difficulties at their earliest stage.  The researchers reported that individuals with untreated hearing loss had higher risk of dementia and that, not surprisingly, the risk increased as their hearing loss increased.  For every 10dB of hearing loss the individual risk of developing dementia increased by 20%.  So strong was the link that the researchers further commented in an interview with the Globe & Mail that “about 1/3 of dementia risk can be explained by hearing loss even though the connection is rarely considered.”

So why would hearing loss be linked to dementia?  Well, hearing loss has already been shown to contribute to social and physical isolation and to cognitive decline.  The researchers further speculate that hearing loss puts stress on the “cognitive reserve”.  Think of the cognitive reserve as the computing power of your brain.  The authors speculate that the brain has to devote more resources to handle the poor quality information coming from the ears which reduces its ability to function well.  Because you need to use more to hear, less is available for things like working memory.

So what can be done?
Firstly, have your hearing checked by a certified Audiologist.  It’s painless, takes no time at all and will be a permanent starting point against which to measure any future changes in your
hearing.  Secondly, if you do have a hearing loss, consider hearing instruments to improve the quality of what you’re hearing and to allow you to stay active and alert.  Thirdly, if you already have hearing aids, have them checked regularly to ensure they’re working well, that they’re programmed for your hearing (which will change over time) and that the best
technology available is working daily to keep you independent and enjoying life.

If you would like to read the study itself or the Globe and Mail article, please click on the links below:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/new-health/conditions/alzheimers/hearing-loss-linked-to-risk-of-dementia/article1906747/

http://www.metroatlantaotolaryngology.org/journal/mar11/hearing%20loss%20and%20dementia.pdf

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