Hearing loss is normally accepted as just another part of the aging process: as we grow older, we start to hear things a little less clearly. Perhaps we begin to turn up the volume on the TV, or keep asking our grandkids to speak up when they’re talking to us, or maybe…we begin to…what was I going to say…oh ya. Perhaps we start to lose our memory.
Memory loss is also usually considered a regular part of aging because dementia and Alzheimer’s are much more prevalent in the senior citizen population than the general population at large. But what if the two were somehow connected? And what if you could treat your hearing loss while caring for your mental health and preserving your memories?
Cognitive Decline And Hearing Loss
With nearly 30 million people in the United States who have hearing loss, most of them do not connect hearing loss with mental decline and dementia. However, the link is very clear if you look in the right places: if you have hearing loss, there is considerable risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, according to numerous studies – even at relatively low levels of hearing loss.
Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are also pretty prevalent in people who have hearing loss. The main point is that hearing loss, mental health concerns, and cognitive decline all have an effect on our ability to be social.
Why is Cognitive Decline Connected to Hearing Loss?
While cognitive decline and mental health problems haven’t been definitively proven to be linked to hearing loss, experts are looking at a number of clues that point us in that direction. There are two principal scenarios they have pinpointed that they believe lead to issues: your brain working harder than it would normally have to and social isolation.
Many studies show that loneliness goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression. And when people are dealing with hearing loss, they’re less likely to socialize with other people. Many people find it’s too hard to have conversations or can’t hear well enough to enjoy things like the movie theater. People who are in this scenario tend to start to isolate themselves which can result in mental health problems.
Also, researchers have found that the brain often has to work overtime because the ears aren’t functioning like they should. The region of the brain which is responsible for understanding sounds, such as voices in a conversation, requires more help from other portion of the brain – specifically, the area of the brain that used for memory. This overtaxes the brain and leads to the onset of cognitive decline much faster than if the brain could process sounds correctly.
How to Avoid Cognitive Decline by Wearing Hearing Aids
Hearing aids restore our hearing permitting the brain to use it’s resources in a normal way which is our best defense for dealing with cognitive decline and dementia. Research shows that patients improved their cognitive functions and had a lower rate of dementia when they managed their hearing loss using hearing aids.
Actually, if more people wore their hearing aids, we may see less cases of mental health issues and cognitive decline. Between 15% and 30% of individuals who need hearing aids even use them, which makes up between 4.5 million and 9 million people. It’s estimated by the World Health Organization that there are nearly 50 million people who have some form of dementia. The quality of life will be drastically improved for individuals and families if hearing aids can lessen that number by even a couple million people.