Most people view ailments like hearing loss, failing memory, and dementia as normal consequences of aging. There is a growing body of research that shows this is incorrect. While many of our systems begin to diminish in function as we age, too much reduction leads to disorders and bigger medical issues, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Fortunately, there are things we can do to support healthier aging. Your hearing can play a major role in keeping your memory and your brain sharp. Older adults concerned about displaying early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease should also consider a hearing check-up, according to recent studies.
A Link between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Health
“What might appear to be signs of memory loss could actually point to hearing issues,” says Dr. Susan Vandermorris, one of the study’s authors and a clinical neuropsychologist at Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care in Toronto Canada.
A recent Baycrest study, published in the Canadian Journal on Aging, found that the majority (56 per cent) of participants being evaluated for memory and thinking concerns and potential brain disorders had some form of mild to severe hearing loss. Only about 20 per cent of individuals in the study suffering from hearing loss used hearing aids. Among the participants, a quarter of them did not show any signs of memory loss due to a brain disorder.
“We commonly see clients who are worried about Alzheimer’s disease because their partner complains that they don’t seem to pay attention, they don’t seem to listen or they don’t remember what is said to them,” says Dr. Vandermorris. “Sometimes addressing hearing loss may mitigate or fix what looks like a memory issue. An individual isn’t going to remember something said to them if they didn’t hear it properly.”
Understanding Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in older adults, which is experienced by 50 per cent of individuals over the age of 65 and 90 per cent of people over the age of 80. It takes an average of 10 years before people seek treatment and less than 25 per cent of individuals who need hearing aids will buy them. “Some people may be reluctant to address hearing loss, but they need to be aware that hearing health is brain health and help is available,” Dr. Vandermorris says.
“Since hearing loss has been identified as a leading, potentially modifiable risk factor for dementia, treating it may be one way people can reduce the risk,” says Marilyn Reed, another author on the study and practice advisor with Baycrest’s audiology department. “People who can’t hear well have difficulty communicating and tend to withdraw from social activities as a way of coping. This can lead to isolation and loneliness, which can impact cognitive, physical and mental health.”
What’s the Correlation between Hearing Loss & Cognitive Overload?
When you strain to hear, your brain experiences cognitive overload. That means your brain is working so hard to decipher what people are saying, it doesn’t have the time to put the information into your memory bank. The more severe your hearing loss, the more resources your brain has to divert from other tasks to help you understand.
When you have to work extra hard to hear, you tend to start isolating yourself. You get tired of asking “What?” and decide to keep to yourself instead. When you do have to be social, your frustration with your hearing difficulty can make you seem irritable. Prolonged social isolation is a leading risk factor for developing dementia. When you isolate yourself, your brain goes from having being active – processing conversation, new information, environmental sounds – to not working very much at all.
Since the studies, Baycrest’s Neuropsychology and Cognitive Health Program and Hearing Services have incorporated general screening for hearing and memory issues into their assessments, as well as provided educational materials to clients. Another study published in October 2015 found that hearing aids help protect brain health and ward off cognitive decline. Over the course of the 25-year study participants with hearing aids experienced cognitive decline at the same rate as those with normal hearing.
Visit Us at Audibel
The correlations between hearing loss and cognitive decline indicate the importance of maintaining your hearing health as you age. Specialists recommend yearly hearing tests for anyone over the age of 50. If you can catch your hearing loss early you will keep your brain and your memory sharp. Don’t let your hearing loss affect your memory! Contact us at Audibel today for a hearing test and consultation.