Hearing loss is considered a typical part of the aging process: as we grow older, we start to hear things a little less distinctly. Perhaps we start turning the volume up on the TV, or keep asking our grandkids to repeat themselves when they’re talking to us, or maybe…we begin to…what was I going to say…oh ya. Perhaps we begin to suffer memory loss.
The general population has a far lower rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s than the older population. That’s the reason why memory loss is regarded as a neutral part of aging. But what if there was a connection between the two? And what if you could deal with your hearing loss while caring for your mental health and preserving your memories?
Hearing Loss And Mental Decline
With about 30 million individuals in the United States suffering from hearing loss, mental decline and dementia, for the majority of them, isn’t linked to hearing loss. However, the link is very clear if you look in the right direction: if you have hearing loss, there is significant risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, according to numerous studies – even if you have relatively mild loss of hearing.
Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are also fairly prevalent in people who have hearing loss. The main point is that hearing loss, mental health concerns, and cognitive decline all have an impact on our ability to be social.
Why is Cognitive Decline Related to Hearing Loss?
While there are no solid findings or definitive evidence that hearing loss causes cognitive decline and mental health problems, experts are looking at several clues that point us in that direction. There are two primary scenarios they have identified that they think lead to problems: failure to socialize and your brain working extra time.
Many studies show that loneliness goes hand in hand with depression and anxiety. And people are not as likely to socialize when they are dealing with hearing loss. Many people find that it’s too hard to have conversations or can’t hear well enough to enjoy things like going to the movies. These actions lead down a path of solitude, which can lead to mental health problems.
Also, researchers have discovered that the brain often has to work overtime to compensate for the fact that the ears don’t hear as well as they should. When this happens, other regions of the brain, such as the one used for memory, are diverted for hearing and comprehending sound. This overtaxes the brain and causes cognitive decline to set in much faster than if the brain was processing sounds correctly.
Wearing Hearing Aids to Stop Cognitive Decline
Hearing aids are our first line of defense against cognitive decline, mental health concerns, and dementia. Studies show that people improved their cognitive functions and had a decreased rate of dementia when they managed their hearing loss with hearing aids.
As a matter of fact, if more people wore their hearing aids, we might see fewer cases of mental health concerns and cognitive decline. Between 15% and 30% of individuals who require hearing aids even use them, which makes up between 4.5 million and 9 million people. The World Health Organization reports that there are almost 50 million individuals who have some form of dementia. The quality of life will be dramatically enhanced for people and families if hearing aids can decrease that number by even a couple million people.