Dementia and hearing loss
People with a hearing loss are five times more likely to develop Dementia
Why is there a link?
We know that hearing loss increases the risk of dementia in older people. According to researcher Frank Lin the most likely reasons are:
- When the cochlea (the hub of the inner ear) sends a garbled signal to the brain, which happens as we develop a hearing loss, the brain has to work harder to decode it. The increased ‘cognitive load’ leads to a reduction in our cognitive and thinking abilities.
- Hearing loss may lead to structural changes in the part of the brain that handles sound processing. The same part of the brain is also important for other cognitive function, including language and memory.
Hearing loss directly contributes to social isolation, which we’ve long known is a clear risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.
Evidence suggests that proper diagnosis and management of hearing loss can reduce the risk of dementia and also its impact, especially in the early stages. In particular, evidence suggests that wearing hearing aids can help, for example by improving working memory – the short term memory that we use to complete everyday tasks. Hearing aids can also help prevent some of the other risks and conditions associated with dementia, such as falls and depression.
Communication difficulties caused by hearing loss and dementia can lead to misdiagnosis of either or both conditions. For example, hearing loss can be misdiagnosed as dementia, or make the symptoms of dementia appear worse. Health professionals need to be aware of the association between the two, and the likelihood that they will occur together.
With experience of hearing loss for over 19 years we recommend you have a full diagnostic hearing test and if a hearing loss is detected to wear hearing aids – as the evidence suggests it can help to reduce the risk of dementia and the impact it can have.