Can hearing loss increase your chances of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia?

Older people with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing. This is the result of a study by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA and the National Institute on Aging. The researchers say the findings could lead to new ways to combat dementia, a condition that affects millions of people worldwide and carries heavy societal burdens.

Deteriorating hearing makes it increasingly difficult for us to converse with other people. We mishear things with greater frequency and have to keep asking people to repeat things. Outsiders can often react with miscomprehension. Generally this results in making individuals more socially isolated, a known risk factor for dementia and other cognitive disorders.

The study published in 2011, showed a strong association between hearing loss and both the earlier onset and more serious degrees of dementia.

Researchers from John Hopkins investigated 639 different adults aged between 36 and 90 years of age. Over a four-year period from 1990 these adults underwent a series of tests to determine their cognitive (perception) and hearing health. Researchers monitored any development of Alzheimer’s and dementia until 2008.

Alarmingly, it was found that those who suffered from hearing loss at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop dementia and the greater the hearing loss, the more chance there was.

Alzheimer’s also came up as a problem related to hearing loss. For every 10 decibels of hearing loss the extra likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s increased by 20 percent!

“A lot of people ignore hearing loss because it’s such a slow and insidious process as we age,” says Dr Frank Lin, a lead researcher. “Even if people feel as if they are not affected, we’re showing that it may well be a more serious problem.”

Poor hearing is spread across all age groups, not just the elderly. Younger and younger people are presenting with hearing loss – much of it caused by excessively loud music listened to via headphones and at concerts and discos. Construction workers, ambulance and fire truck drivers, DJs and other workers are all examples of jobs where loud noise can have a damaging and lasting effect.

A small group of people experience a hearing loss caused by medical, genetic or simply unknown factors. Five to ten percent of all hearing loss cases in adults can be treated medically or surgically.

One thing is clear – you are not alone in suffering from a hearing loss – about one in every six people has some degree of hearing impairment. Based on the findings of this study it makes good sense to check out any hearing loss. Leaving it until ‘later’ is not going to help – actually it will tend to make things a lot worse. Take action, do it now and talk to an Audiologist. It might be the best thing you do to keep you in the “hear and now” for a much longer time! 

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