Hearing loss and Dementia – Is there a causal link?

What is dementia?

Dementia, also known as Major Neurocognitive Decline (MCD) is not one specific disease, rather it presents as a collection of symptoms. Dementia can affect many aspects of daily life including cognition, memory, attention, behaviour and furthermore social and working lives. It is not a normal part of ageing.

Some Risk Factors for Dementia include:

  • Female
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Smoking
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of intellectual stimulation

The major one is sensory acuity which includes vision, hearing, balance, smell, touch and taste. These are all associated with cognition. If there is any decline in the above senses this increases the risk of dementia.

What can be done to help?

Currently there is no cure or treatment of dementia. Furthermore symptoms can be late to present. So perhaps we need to consider this from a different perspective? Let’s consider delaying onset and slowing progression of dementia. All of the above risk factors are more obvious markers that can be present well before amyloid plaques and tangles and much easier to identify. If we can MANAGE all of the above we can at least have a fighting chance in delaying onset and slowing progression of dementia.

So what has all this got to do with Hearing? …..Hearing loss and dementia

It is worth noting that 40% of people with dementia have hearing loss. However let’s be clear from the outset, hearing loss does NOT cause dementia. Hearing aids could play a role to help slow the rate of decline. Let’s take a step back. Hearing loss can indirectly affect some of the above risk factors. For example, hearing loss may result in you being less social as you find it too difficult to converse with friends and family in a social setting. You may miss parts of the conversation and find yourself just nodding along or getting embarrassed and frustrated asking for repeats. So hearing loss can lead to decreased socialisation which is a risk factor for dementia therefore increasing risk of dementia.

Furthermore, it is generally well researched that some of the risk factors for dementia are also factors for hearing loss. One example is, aerobic exercise leads to increased blood flow which in turn keeps the hearing system healthy and active.

Hearing loss and cognition are complex and multifactorial. Indeed they share a range of common causes. It is not just a one way link between hearing and dementia. Any cognitive impairments can result in poor listening. If can we look after one, we’ll look after the other.

Overall if we can address each of the above risk factors, we can have small gains which can then provide a larger combined impact. So the bottom line?

If we aim to prevent sensory impairment whether that be fitting hearing aid for hearing loss or glasses for vision impairment, exercising, maintaining a healthy diet and keeping our cognition stimulated and engaged, we just may have fighting chance in delaying onset and slowing progression of dementia.



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