Can Hearing Loss Be a Sign of Dementia?
Is Hearing Loss An Early Sign of Dementia?
The short answer? Hearing loss is not necessarily a sign.
Just because you have hearing loss doesn’t mean that you’re getting dementia.
But there are a few things you should have on your radar. We’ll go over these and give you the information you need.
Most American adults over 60 have some type of hearing loss, and according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Hearing Disorders, 50 percent of those 75 years old or older have hearing loss to the point that it is disabling. This is compared to 25 percent of those between the ages of 65 and 74.
Some researchers believe there is a direct link between hearing loss and dementia.
At West Bladen Assisted Living and Memory Care, we realize that some members of our assisted living community near you in Bladenboro, NC are struggling with the challenges of hearing loss. We work with our residents to ensure they have the resources they need to maintain as much independence as safely possible.
Hearing Loss and Dementia: What’s the Connection?
First, a lot of research into this topic is ongoing—so if you having issues, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean that you’re automatically developing dementia.
Likewise, don’t see the slightest sign of forgetfulness as a warning alarm for Alzheimer’s disease.
However, there are a few things you should consider and keep an eye out for. Studies reveal in brain scans that hearing issues may cause faster rates of brain atrophy.
How Hearing Loss Affects the Brain
Think of it this way: your brain does a lot of work. It’s constantly interpreting signals from all your senses. It does this seamlessly and without a problem.
The amount of work your brain uses to get tasks done is called the “cognitive load.”
However, when you have issues hearing, the brain has to work harder in order to compensate. It’s using a lot of energy to interpret garbled or muffled sounds. This means your brain exerts more energy, which in turn contributes to the cognitive load.
It’s almost like your brain becomes so exhausted from working so hard just to process things. When you throw in the fact that hearing loss can contribute to faster brain atrophy, you’ve got your gray matter working overtime just to cope with everyday life.
What’s the Difference Between Conductive vs Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
These two types of hearing loss have distinct causes. The most common is sensorineural hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the actual hearing nerve becomes damaged. It also occurs when there’s something wrong with the inner ear itself, particularly when there are problems with the hair cells that line your cochlea.
The cochlea is the part of your ear that turns sound vibrations into nerve signals that are sent to the brain.
Sensorineural hearing loss is also the result of being exposed to loud noises for an extended period of time.
Surgery cannot fix sensorineural hearing loss, but most do benefit from hearing aids.
Conductive hearing loss is different. This occurs in the middle ear. For some reason, sound waves aren’t able to carry their signals all the way into the inner ear. Why? It could be for a variety of reasons.
These reasons may range from an injured eardrum to earwax blockage. Sometimes, surgery can help alleviate this condition.
(Want to know more about how hearing works? Check out this great video on how sound travels to your brain.)
Hearing Loss Has Other Physical Effects
While dementia can be one of the effects of hearing loss, it also has other physical and psychological issues.
First, it can cause social isolation. It’s challenging to be with groups of people if you don’t know what they’re saying. It also prevents you from starting conversations with others.
Second, this isolation can lead to depression, particularly among the elderly.
Third, it can affect your balance. Our ears are more involved in balance that many realize. Problems with their function can make it more difficult for you to maintain an even gait.
How Can You Prevent Hearing Loss?
To a certain extent, age-related hearing issues is inevitable. However, you can keep your hearing from getting worse. You can also use tools such as hearing aids or cochlear implants to restore your hearing, reduce the “cognitive load” on your brain, and reduce the chances of hearing-loss-related dementia.
To keep your hearing from getting worse:
- Avoid loud noises
- If you’re going to be around loud noises, use ear protection
- Keep down the volume whenever listening through earbuds or headphones
- Ask your doctor for a hearing checkup
If your loved one is having hearing issues that has put them at risk of dementia, we want you to know that we have the resources available to help them if they ever develop Alzheimer’s. This assistance is available through our memory care program.
What Is Memory Care?
At West Bladen, we have 26 beds dedicated to Memory Care. These units are specifically designed to help those who have Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
Our dedicated staff has received extensive training in working with those who have memory issues. As a result, we’re able to offer an environment that is safe, relaxing yet stimulating.
Allow us to care for the one you love so you can step back into your role as son, daughter or spouse.
Reserve Your Space at West Bladen: Bladenboro’s Senior Living Community
Conveniently located in Bladenboro, we are only a short drive away from some of the most beautiful beaches in North Carolina.
We encourage you to reserve your new address, as rooms fill up quickly. Contact us for a virtual tour and more information.