This post is part of our new “Hearing Loss is Not Harmless” series. This series of posts will walk through several common physical, mental and emotional health conditions that have been found to cause—or be caused by—hearing loss.
Hearing Loss and Dementia
In honor of this past Monday being World Alzheimer’s Day, we wanted to talk about the link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s and other Dementia in today’s post.
Of the approximately 48,000,000 adults in America living with hearing loss1, nearly 27,000,000 are 50 and older. However, only about one in seven—that’s just 14%—uses a hearing aid.2
A 2013 Johns Hopkins study found that participants with hearing loss had faster rates of brain atrophy, lost over a cubic centimeter more of brain tissue annually and had a great deal more shrinkage in specific regions of the brain, including those that process sound and speech, than those without hearing loss. Two of those regions responsible for speech and sound are also involved with memory and sensory integration and can play a role in the early stages of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.3
Your brain functions similar to a muscle: when it isn’t being used enough, it begins to atrophy and deteriorate. Even just 25 dB of hearing loss—a mild case—contributes to cognitive decline 30-40% faster than in those without hearing loss.4 Additionally, those with mild hearing loss have a 200% greater risk of developing dementia, while those with severe hearing loss had a 500% greater risk, as compared to individuals without hearing loss.5
The same negative effects and risk factors apply to both “otherwise healthy young adults” as well as older adults with mild hearing loss. This is concerning for future generations; in 2010, the number of teens and young adults with hearing loss reached 1 in 56, while earlier this year WHO said 1,100,000,000 are currently at risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss7. People can often be unaware they have mild hearing loss, leading it to go undiagnosed and untreated until it becomes a larger or more serious problem.
Be sure to ask your primary care physician to perform a hearing test if you’ve been experiencing signs of tinnitus and/or hearing loss. If necessary, your doctor can also refer you to an audiologist to discuss treatment options.
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1. Hearing Loss Association of America <http://www.hearingloss.org/content/basic-facts-about-hearing-loss> last accessed 9/9/15.
2. Johns Hopkins University Medicine <http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_aid_gap__millions_who_could_benefit_remain_untreated> last accessed 9/24/15.
3. Johns Hopkins University Medicine <http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_accelerated_brain_tissue_loss_> last accessed 9/24/15.
4. USA Today <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/01/21/dementia-hearing-loss-elderly/1842919/> last accessed 9/24/15.
5. Lin, F. R., Metter, E. J., O’Brien, R. J., Resnick, S. M., Zonderman, A. B., & Ferrucci, L. (2011). Hearing loss and incident dementia.Archives of Neurology,68, 214–220. Cited on the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website at <http://www.asha.org/Aud/Articles/Untreated-Hearing-Loss-in-Adults/> last accessed 9/24/15.
6. NBC News <http://www.nbcnews.com/id/38742752/ns/health-childrens_health/t/us-teens-has-hearing-loss-new-study-says/#.VgWTPNNViko> last accessed 9/24/15.
7. World Health Organization <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/ear-care/en/> last accessed 9/24/15.