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Five links between hearing loss and dementia

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Dementia affects over 600,000 Canadians, their family members and loved ones, and numbers are predicted to increase as Canada’s population ages. In fact, the number of people living with dementia in Canada is expected to rise to as high as one million by 2030. However, what’s less known is the link between hearing loss and dementia and how treating hearing loss has been proven to reduce the risk of the condition. Read on to find out more! 

Firstly, what are Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada describes dementia as the “overall term for a set of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain.” Though 40% of people aged over 65 do experience some sort of memory loss, they stress that dementia is not a normal part of ageing. Common symptoms include: 

  • short- and long-term memory loss
  • everyday difficulty with problem-solving, thinking or language 
  • changes in mood and behaviour. 

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, caused by amyloid-beta plaques building up, and neural fibres tangling. This causes brain cells to die, which, in turn, leads to dementia. Specific symptoms of both dementia and Alzheimer’s vary from person to person depending on the area of the brain affected and how far along the disease is.

What causes mid-life hearing loss?

The type of hearing loss most often detected is sensorineural, which happens due to damage done to minuscule hair cells in our inner ear. This damage can occur due to ageing, loud noise, and various illnesses, including those affecting the heart and thyroid. This damage can also result in tinnitus.

If you think you may be affected by mid-life hearing loss, listen out for higher frequencies, as these are often affected before lower frequencies. 

Though this type of hearing loss often happens gradually, Statistics Canada (2021) has determined the frequency of hearing loss as increasing with age: 

Reducing the risk of dementia 

While several factors can be identified as risk factors for dementia, it’s important to note that treating these factors can actually help reduce a person’s risk of developing the condition. 

In fact, a study published by The Lancet found that people with mild hearing loss face as much as twice the risk of developing dementia, those with moderate hearing loss face 3x the risk, and those with severe hearing loss have 5x the chance of developing the condition. These odds could very well be linked to increased isolation and loneliness among those with hearing loss, which also tend to get more severe as hearing loss worsens.

However, the good news is that hearing devices could mitigate some of this risk. 

Hearing devices can help 

The study published by The Lancet evaluated that 8.2% of dementia cases could be prevented or delayed if mid-life hearing loss is avoided. Though many steps can be taken throughout our lives to minimise our exposure to loud noises, protecting our hearing in the long run, the easiest way of avoiding hearing loss, especially once it has begun to develop, is treating it with the use of a hearing aid. 

Hearing should be tested for anyone experiencing dementia symptoms 

As well as helping reduce the onset of dementia among those suffering from hearing loss, hearing loss could actually make it far more difficult for healthcare providers to diagnose dementia. This is because hearing loss can affect the outcome of cognitive assessments, impacting patients’ speech and ability to communicate effectively. 

If hearing loss is diagnosed prior to these assessments, steps can be taken to compensate for it, allowing treatments to be put in place and the person’s dementia – and hearing loss – to be accurately assessed. 

Dementia, cognitive decline, and hearing loss can take a toll on the lives of those who experience them, their family members and loved ones. Each issue needs to be investigated so that solutions can be found. If hearing loss is a concern, make sure to book a hearing test at your local Hear Right centre to take the first steps toward treating your hearing loss and improving your quality of life. 

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