There have been many discussions, all kinds of speculation, and a handful of research studies on the connection between hearing loss and dementia. Does hearing loss lead to dementia? Is it a direct correlation, or is there a third variable at play? Are the two really even connected at all?
Below, we break down the latest research and explore the relationship between hearing loss and dementia.
Are Hearing Loss and Dementia Correlated?
The idea that hearing loss and dementia are related has been around for decades, and is supported by quite a bit of evidence. A number of different studies, dating back as far as the 1980’s, have shown a correlation between hearing loss and dementia amongst older adults.
Over 30 years ago, a case-control study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association was one of the first to report an association between hearing impairment and the likelihood of developing dementia. Another study that tracked hundreds of adults for 12 years found that mild hearing loss doubled participants’ risk of dementia, while moderate hearing loss tripled their risk.
How Hearing Loss and Dementia Are Related
So while it seems there is a relationship between dementia and hearing impairment, it has been harder to identify exactly what the relationship is. More recent research has looked to determine whether hearing loss is causing dementia.
Some researchers have suggested that the social isolation brought on by hearing impairment may contribute to quicker cognitive decline. Others hypothesize that hearing loss causes the brain to work harder, increasing cognitive load and thus decreasing the energy left for other cognitive functions.
Hearing Aids and Dementia
The next steps in research are to discover ways to combat the increased dementia that is correlated with hearing loss. Some of this research is focusing on hearing aids. If hearing loss really is causing dementia, then fighting the hearing impairment could be an important part of decreasing incidence of dementia.
Currently, a large National Institute on Aging study is looking at whether hearing aids can safeguard seniors’ mental processes. These findings could have major implications for the way we see the connection between hearing loss and dementia going forward.
While there is much to still be learned, it is clear that hearing impairment and cognitive impairment are related in some way. Continuing to stay on the forefront of this research will help us at Dolan Memory Care Homes continue to provide the best experience for all our residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia.