Raise your hand if you’d like to reduce your risk for getting dementia. That’s pretty much everyone. There’s a real possibility that your future quality of life could be improved by paying closer attention to your hearing.
Hearing loss is often considered to be a normal part of the aging process. We’re learning, however, that the condition can have an important impact on the brain and how it functions.
The Connection Between Dementia and Hearing Loss
Credible studies show hearing loss to be a likely contributing factor to dementia in its many forms. Not everyone with compromised hearing will end up with cognitive impairment, but this is a risk factor we can do something about.
The first hints arrived in 1989. Medical professionals conducted a study and published their findings in an article called Relationship of Hearing Impairment to Dementia and Cognitive Dysfunction in Older Adults. As published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, they found that age-related hearing impairment may contribute to the risk of dementia.
Later studies show a stronger correlation and offer a more definitive explanation about what’s going on.
What’s Happening in the Brain?
Studies generally break down the connection into three distinct aspects: Cognitive Load, Brain Structure and Function, and Social Involvement.
Cognitive Load: Think about the last time you tried to use WiFi on an overloaded network. Loading the next web page got pretty slow while enjoying a pastry at the coffee shop. In a similar way, reduced auditory signals (because of hearing loss) makes the brain work harder to process information. That leaves less bandwidth for other functions like working memory.
Brain Structure and Function: Poor auditory signals mean reduced stimulation in the cochlea. That reduced stimulation somehow results in a reduction of brain “volume.” Reports use the term atrophy, much like muscles that don’t get enough use. Certain lobes of the brain are compromised more than others, but the entire brain gets affected on some level. The brain actually reduces in size.
Decrease in Social Involvement: Naturally, untreated hearing loss causes people to isolate themselves from others. If you can’t hear what people are saying, the tendency is to withdraw. You might enjoy the solitude but interaction with others keeps the brain stimulated and healthy. When people withdraw, stimulation is reduced. Atrophy is the result.
Hearing Loss Numbers are Concerning
More people suffer from hearing loss than you might think. Many don’t even know their hearing has been diminished. People of all ages and walks of life are affected. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services offers several statistics regarding hearing disorders. Here are just a few:
• Approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing.
• One in eight people in the United States (13 percent, or 30 million) aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations.
• About 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. The rate increases to 8.5 percent for adults aged 55 to 64. Nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.
• Among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30 percent) has ever used them. Even fewer adults aged 20 to 69 (approximately 16 percent) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them.
Compromised hearing doesn’t always cause cognitive impairment. But the studies making the link between the two give us a reason to take hearing loss more seriously. For most of us, both prevention and treatment are available.
Hearing degradation is sometimes simply the result of wax blockage. An easy fix. In rare cases, surgery to correct abnormalities in the ear are appropriate forms of treatment, as are cochlear implants. For most people, the course of treatment is twofold: the purchase of hearing aids and avoiding further damage from loud noises.
We would do well to pursue a solution sooner rather than later. For several reasons, we tend to drag our feet.
It creeps up: Hearing loss is usually gradual, regardless of cause. Audiologists and other health professionals report that patients have often experienced hearing loss for several years before getting tested. By the time they suspect a problem, the condition has been there for some time. Even when hearing loss has been identified, several more years sometimes pass before treatment is pursued.
“I’m not that old:” It’s not just the aged that have hearing issues. Age is a common cause of hearing degradation, but not the only cause. Inner ear and other diseases, head injury, high decibel sounds, and certain drugs are some of the many causes. To a forty or fifty-year-old it seems counter-intuitive to pursue treatment for a condition that’s reserved for “old folks.”
Choices and cost: Hearing aids come in many types and styles. They can be very expensive, costing several thousand dollars. They can also cost a few hundred bucks. It’s not clear to the consumer how to evaluate and compare the features and benefits against the price tag. An audiologist is a great resource to help you make the best choice. Check out this video from the Mayo Clinic.
Reasons to Get Your Hearing Checked Soon
Delay can cost you. It’s not just your hearing, it’s your mental condition that’s in jeopardy. Among aging adults the stakes are high. Memory care communities do a great job, but they’re very expensive. There are in-home care options, but why not take action to reduce your risk of dementia.
Fortunately, recent laws on the books mean that new, over-the-counter solutions are showing up in the marketplace. They vary in price and sophistication, but consumers now have more options at a lower price point. Look for positive developments on this front.
Something Else You Shouldn’t Put Off
A sudden health event can put your assets at risk. And we know how to help families in crisis. But the best outcomes are the result of a holistic approach to estate planning. Clients not only want the assurance that their wishes will be honored, they want to protect the assets they’ve worked hard to accumulate. Don’t wait for an emergency. Get your estate in order now.
How Does Quinn Estate & Elder Law Help Seniors?
In short, we help seniors and their families protect their legal and financial interests. The core of our work relates to estate planning, elder law, long term care planning, special needs, and VA benefits for seniors.
Want to know more about how our solutions can help you and your family? Call us at 636-428-3344.