Does Hearing Loss Increase my Risk of Dementia?

Many people don’t realize the far-reaching health implications of untreated hearing loss. Research shows that people with moderate to severe hearing loss are five times more likely to develop dementia than people with normal hearing.

Even individuals with mild hearing loss are nearly twice as likely to experience cognitive decline and dementia than those without a hearing impairment. And the risks are three-fold for people with moderate hearing loss.

The Research Behind the Connection

A 2014 study at Johns Hopkins University tracked brain changes in 126 people over a decade. Each participant completed a hearing test, and the results revealed 75 people with normal hearing and 51 people with impaired hearing who had at least a 25-decibel loss.

The results indicated:

  • Participants who were hearing-impaired at the start of the study had accelerated rates of brain tissue loss.
  • Those with impaired hearing lost more than one additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue each year compared to participants with normal hearing.
  • The impaired hearing group also had significantly more shrinkage in brain regions responsible for processing sound and speech.

What’s the Connection?

Hearing loss can lead to increased cognitive load as the brain works harder to understand speech. Over time, that extra effort drains the brain of the mental energy it needs for other important functions, such as thinking and remembering. That deficit lays the groundwork for the development of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

A 2021 Korean study indicated that individuals over 66 with bilateral hearing loss showed poorer cognitive function than those with unilateral hearing loss. That means if you have hearing loss in both ears, your risk of developing dementia is even greater.

The Emotional Effects of Hearing Loss

There’s also a socialization component associated with untreated hearing loss. If you can’t communicate effectively with others, you may begin to withdraw from relationships, leaving you feeling isolated, anxious and depressed.

Fortunately, research also shows that treating hearing loss with hearing aids can slow cognitive decline and help prevent dementia. By improving listening experiences, hearing aids can also improve an individual’s social capabilities, independence, emotional health and overall quality of life.

Early intervention is essential to treating hearing loss effectively. Protecting your ears protects your brain from memory loss.

Schedule a hearing test at one of Hearing Associates’ audiology offices in northern Iowa or southern Minnesota, and we’ll help you find the right hearing aids to treat your unique needs. Contact us online or call 888-760-2032 for more information.