Many people living with hearing loss are surprised to learn the way hearing problems also impact other areas of health and wellness. Untreated hearing loss takes a toll on a person’s quality of life, including an elevated risk of depression, anxiety and social isolation. Hearing loss that goes unaddressed is also linked to serious health issues including heart disease, falling accidents and dementia.
There has long been understood to be a link between untreated hearing loss increases a person’s risk of developing dementia. Now, research is finding solid evidence that hearing aid use can reduce that risk. Drawing from health data provided by the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center, research released this year clearly shows the preventative impact hearing aid use can have on the development of cognitive health concerns, from mild cognitive impairment to dementia.
Making the Connection
Understanding why hearing loss and cognitive problems are connected is important to understanding why using hearing aids can help. When left untreated, hearing loss creates a persistent challenge for our cognitive energy.
Hearing loss can be caused by many different sources but most hearing loss is rooted in accumulated damage to the sensory cells in the ear that vibrate when engaged by sound waves. These cells cannot repair themselves when damaged, and so exposure to loud noise, infection or a problem with circulation can all cause permanent injury to our sense of hearing. Damaged sensory cells accrue throughout our lifetime, increasing our risk of hearing loss as we age. When many of these cells are no longer functioning correctly in our ears, the result is hearing loss.
With the presence of significant hearing loss, the ear only detects a partial amount of incoming sounds. Much of the nuance and detail of sounds may not be detected, giving the person with hearing loss the impression that sounds are muffled or mumbled. Without a full sense of sound, comprehension becomes challenging. While sound is detected in our ears, the meaning of sound is interpreted in the brain. Our minds have well-worn pathways and shortcuts to understand speech and sound almost instantaneously when hearing loss is not an issue.
When hearing loss is present, however, hearing comprehension begins to stress our cognitive resources. Comprehending sound while living with untreated hearing loss is akin to trying to solve a crossword puzzle with only half the clues. While it can be done, it will take longer, be more frustrating, and be more susceptible to mistakes and misunderstandings. Shaping meaning from partial sound information requires more of our mental energy to be committed to hearing and responding to sound.
Mental energy may seem abstract, but in reality, this causes notable mental strain, pulling focus and attention away from other mental tasks. Even fundamental cognitive jobs such as balancing and coordinating the movements of the body can be short-changed when hearing loss commandeers our attention. The result of this cognitive stress is an overall decrease in our ability to problem-solve and perform cognitive tasks. It is this chronic mental stress that is thought to most contribute to the higher risk of dementia for those with untreated hearing loss.
Hearing aids have been shown to increase a person’s quality of life and cognitive performance, even among people living with dementia. Now, science is establishing a firm connection between hearing aid use and a reduced risk of dementia onset. Examining data from over 2000 subjects, a new study led by Dr. Magda Bucholc found that hearing aid use in people with hearing loss lowers the risk of developing dementia and slows the onset of cognitive decline.
Hearing aid use could have the potential to reduce overall national dementia cases by 9%, saving many from developing this devastating disease. Over the course of the study, hearing aid users performed significantly better at cognitive tasks and developed dementia at far lower and slower rates from subjects with untreated hearing loss. The study found that hearing aid use did not have an impact on a person’s longevity, but dramatically altered a subject’s quality of life.
Time For Hearing Aids
Are you living with untreated hearing loss? You may be enduring daily struggles that are taking a toll on your health. Treating hearing loss with hearing aids is effective and easy – why not get started by contacting us today?