“My hearing isn’t ‘that bad’.” “It’s only bad in this ear.” “The dialogue is just low on this movie.” “This restaurant is just too loud to have a conversation.”
People say all kinds of things when they’re trying to avoid getting their hearing tested and getting help once hearing loss becomes noticeable. You may make excuses because you think it’s so mild. Surely this isn’t what “real” hearing loss feels like. Surely you don’t really need help.
The questioning and hesitance are normal. But before you write hearing loss off as “not that bad”, learn about the link between hearing loss and dementia.
What Causes Dementia?
Scientists really don’t know what causes dementia. They know it’s not just a product of getting older. As science has advanced over the past century and even the past decade, researchers have come to understand that age really is just a number.
Things like diet and lifestyle have a lot more to do with the how you age than simple genetics or the numbers on your birthday cake.
What Science Says About Preventing Dementia
Despite not having a clear understanding of what causes dementia, through studies, they have been able to demonstrate that certain things can reduce your risk like:
- Managing blood pressure
- Preventing or managing diabetes
- Managing cholesterol
- Reducing inflammation
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Staying social and active
- Learning new things
Those are a lot of life areas to manage. They’re all important to living a long, active, healthy life.
But it may come as a surprise that one preventative measure overshadows all of them. That’s treating hearing loss. And we’re not just talking about profound hearing loss.
The Connection Between Mild Hearing Loss and Dementia
Several studies support that individuals with a noticeable level of hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia. If you’re questioning whether you have hearing loss, then it’s noticeable.
A recent study followed over 600 people (a good sample size) for 12-18 years. Each person was mentally sharp at the beginning of the study. But they had some level of hearing loss. This study found a direct correlation between the severity of the hearing loss and likelihood of developing dementia.
Those with moderate untreated hearing loss were 300% more likely to have dementia. The people with mild hearing loss weren’t fairing much better. They had a 200% chance of developing dementia compared to people with normal hearing and those who got it treated.
Do you still think your hearing loss isn’t so bad?
How Might Hearing Loss Cause/Worsen Dementia?
At this point more research is needed to confirm a cause-and-effect relationship. But based upon the science so far, scientists have some good ideas why.
First, hearing loss puts an incredible strain on the brain. Your daily life becomes solving the puzzle of what someone said by “reading between the lines”. This may sound like a great brain workout. But like any workout, overdoing it causes fatigue and injury.
This constant work causes stress and pulls resources away from your memory processing and other cognitive skills.
Second, in a hearing person (someone not born with hearing loss), communication skills develop within the hearing center of your brain. As a person slowly loses their hearing, this part of the brain slowly shuts down. As it does, the shutdown spreads to other parts of the brain.
On MRI machines, doctors can actually see that the brains of those with hearing loss get smaller the longer the hearing loss goes untreated.
On top of all of this, staying active, engaged and social, which also help reduce dementia, are much more difficult to achieve with untreated hearing loss.
Does Hearing Loss Treatment Help Prevent Dementia?
Not only do studies show that getting hearing loss treated can prevent the advancement of dementia. A study in France showed that 80% of people who received treatment after going into cognitive decline showed substantial improvement after one year.
Despite this fact, research shows that only around 15-20% of people who have noticeable hearing loss are wearing their hearing aids regularly. Only about 25% of them even got their hearing tested and got hearing aids, which research shows could help them prevent dementia.
Get tested and find out whether you need to be treated for hearing loss.