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Hearing Loss and the Risks of Dementia

There is so much more to hearing loss than getting the right pair of hearing aids and being able to hear your friends and family at social events. Did you know that hearing loss can also have an effect on your health too?

According to several major studies, older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia, compared to those with normal hearing. Studies have shown between a 9% (Livingston et al 2017) and 33% (Lin 2016, AAAS) increased risk of dementia with hearing loss.

Hearing loss (when untreated) is also associated with depression, anxiety, cognitive decline and reduced quality of life.

In a study by Harvard Medical School researchers examined data from 36 studies including more than 20,000 people who underwent both cognitive (brain comprehension) evaluations and hearing tests. Those with age-related hearing loss were more likely to have cognitive impairment or a diagnosis of dementia.

However, another theory is simply that hearing loss tends to isolate many people from the conversations around them. When a person is participating less in social situations, they are becoming less and less engaged. This means the brain is getting minimum stimulation which is one of the activities it needs to protect your brain health.

Auditory deprivation is another condition that occurs to individuals who suffer from hearing loss. It is when the brain loses the ability to interpret words from lack of stimulation over an extended period.
This condition affects people who do not wear hearing aids, even those with a mild hearing impairment and if not treated auditory deprivation can cause an irreversible loss of functionality.

There is a big difference between hearing and understanding. The ear collects sounds and delivers those sounds to your brain which then interprets the sounds into words. Without hearing clearly your ears are not processing those sounds correctly and therefore, your brain has nothing to process or stimulate it.

This is why having a hearing test, and getting the hearing aids that are right for you is imperative. Auditory deprivation is a ‘use it or lose it’ situation, if you don’t take action – deterioration will occur.

Take a look at the 3 lifestyle habits below that promote brain and ear health –

  1. Keep your mind active

You can keep learning throughout your life — higher or advanced education is associated with better mental functioning at an old age, but mental exercises are also believed to activate processes to help maintain individual brain cells.
In saying that, have a look at the following activites that help promote mental activity and take your pick.

  • Read a book, join a book club or try your hand at creative writing.
  • Play chess or bridge.
  • Do crosswords, Sudoku or Jigsaw puzzles
  • Take a class in something that interests you (Language, Dance or Art).
  • More of a green thumb? Design a new garden layout.
  • At work, propose or volunteer for a project that involves a skill you don’t usually use.
  • If you have even mild hearing loss, wear hearing aids regularly. This is one of the only ways to stimulate the auditory part of the brain. Turning the TV louder is not specific enough to target damaged areas. Hearing aids give the exact pitch you need for every sound to exercise the hair cells deep in the inner ear as well as the hearing parts of the brain.
  1. Maintain a good social network

Social connections help keep your brain healthy as you age. So it’s important to maintain good relationships with friends and family, and make sure you keep up with engagements.
If you know you are going to be somewhere that is noisy such as a party, restaurant, or place of worship and feel quite distressed before heading out the house, why not try an assistive hearing device to make you feel more comfortable! Hearing aids cannot change the damage in the ear but it can change the way the sound enters the ear, cleaning up the signal and making it easier to hear and join in, particularly in noisy environments. This is important for enjoyment and indeed brain health.

  1. Exercise regularly

Exercise protects the brain as well. Getting at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (walking at a brisk pace) at least five days each week will be very beneficial to maintaining your brain health. What a great excuse to get out the house, enjoy some fresh air and listen to those birds chirping!

If you are concerned about hearing difficulty or memory issues, we recommend you book in for a free complete hearing assessment. Acting sooner rather than later is vital.


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