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Hearing Loss and Dementia Connected?

Elderly man with glasses wearing a hearing aidA recent study from the National Institutes of Health revealed a connection between hearing loss and the development of dementia in older adults. The link uncovered that older adults who experienced hearing loss were more susceptible to dementia. Research also suggests using hearing aids to treat hearing loss may help slow the development of cognitive decline. 

Dr. Rebecca Blaha, lead audiologist at the Pennsylvania Ear Institute (PEI) of Salus University, discusses the exact relationship between hearing loss and dementia. 

Here’s what we know.  

Q: How can hearing loss increase the risk of dementia?   

Current research is still investigating the relationship between hearing loss and dementia so the exact mechanisms and interactions are not known. Currently, researchers are speculating that hearing loss causes the brain to work harder to understand messages due to missing auditory information. This requires the use of more cognitive resources that limit other brain functions of thinking and memory. Additionally, research proposes that hearing loss may cause the brain to lose volume faster as neural connections atrophy or are reallocated for other brain processes. The final possibility is that hearing loss can lead to social isolation which is also a known risk factor for dementia.  

Elderly patient at PEI sitting with headphones in a sound booth during an examQ: Is hearing loss a major factor for dementia? 

In 2017, the Lancet Commission on Dementia included hearing loss as one of the top contributing factors in the development of dementia. The good news is that it is a potentially modifiable risk factor.  

Q: What can be done in order to treat hearing loss for dementia patients? 

In general the treatment approach is similar to what we do for any patient with hearing loss. We start with a complete hearing evaluation to understand the patient's needs and their hearing loss, though we may modify our test techniques based on the patient's abilities. After we determine the patient's hearing status, we would make treatment recommendations that would best suit the patient's needs; often we recommend hearing aids, but sometimes other approaches might be more suitable for the patient's daily life. 

Regardless, we always want to include caregivers in the appointments, since patients with dementia often need assistance with daily routines such as putting in and taking out their hearing aids. The most important thing is to seek assistance from a qualified audiologist who can take all factors into account and make the most appropriate recommendations for each individual patient. 

Elderly patient at PEI getting ears examined by audiologistQ: Can hearing aids help with reducing the risks of dementia?  

In the recent studies, hearing aids did show benefits for patients with higher risk of developing dementia such as a history of atherosclerosis - the buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on the artery walls, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The brain thrives on sensory stimulation and the use of amplification certainly provides that and helps maintain social engagement through better communication.  

Hearing testing is critical for discovering exactly what type of hearing loss you have, and will help determine the appropriate hearing care solution. Hearing aids are available in many sizes, styles and technologies on site at the Pennsylvania Ear Institute (PEI).

If you suspect you or a loved one may have some degree of hearing loss, contact PEI. Our expert audiologists will assess your hearing and make recommendations on how to address your hearing needs. For more information on PEI’s services or to make an appointment, call 215.780.3180.