According to peak body Dementia Australia, hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia in later life, and much research has been and continues to be conducted to better understand what the relationship is, and how we might mitigate the risk factors.
As individuals, it is vital that we understand what we can do to help ourselves, and although research is ongoing, what is clear is that hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline, and therefore, treating hearing loss may improve our cognitive function.
Over a period of 6 years Dr Frank R Lin MD, PhD of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore ran a study during which they observed 1,984 adults with a mean age of 77.4 years, tracking the progression of hearing loss in relation to cognitive function. Dr Lin concluded that while further research was needed to identify the mechanics of how and why hearing loss and cognitive decline were related, there was little doubt that hearing loss is a factor in loss of mental acuity in older adults. He also found that the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the likelihood of developing a cognitive disorder, and the steeper the decline of mental function.
As evidence continues to mount that hearing loss is a contributing factor to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, not ignoring the signs of hearing loss is something we all have the power to influence ourselves.
I was shocked to learn that currently on average, people wait 7 years from a diagnosis of hearing loss to seeking intervention.
But one thing is for certain, the earlier the implementation of some sort of intervention, the greater the positive impact on quality of life, and the better the chance of helping to manage the risk of other health and social issues.
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This may seem obvious, but here are the key things to look out for:
- Trouble playing your usual part in conversations with family and friends
- Asking people to repeat what they have said more often
- Avoiding having phone conversations and letting others take messages for you
- Finding noisy environments challenging and tiring
- Turning the radio or tv up louder than you used to
- Feeling isolated from others
What are the options
These days there are many options to support hearing, including hearing aids, cochlear implants and assistive listening devices that help with specific issues like hearing the TV.
Gone are the days of just one type of gigantic hearing aid that sat atop your ear for everyone to see.
Devices are smaller, smarter, and can even be a design statement. They can be the size of your fingernail, sit inside your ear, or fit onto the temples of your glasses – for example this smart little device.
Audiologists are easily accessible and well-equipped to diagnose and then treat the problem, and there may be government support available to help procure the appropriate solution.
From a practical perspective, there have been huge strides forward in the management of hearing devices. Now adjustments can be achieved remotely from a mobile phone, tablet or computer – a monumental step forward in providing support for the elderly and for people who live with dementia and other disabilities.
For more information:
Dementia Australia – https://www.dementia.org.au
Hearing Australia – https://www.hearing.com.au/Hearing-loss/Management/The-link-between-hearing-loss-and-dementia
To read Dr Lin’s research go to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4075051/
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