A recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging has found that adults with hearing loss are significantly more likely than adults with normal hearing to develop dementia. The study also concluded that the greater the hearing loss, the higher the risk.
The study followed 639 people ages 36 to 90 who initially did not have dementia. The volunteers were tested for hearing loss and dementia every two years for nearly two decades.
Researchers found that those with hearing loss at the beginning of the study were much more likely to develop dementia by the end. The risk of dementia only began to rise once hearing loss began to interfere with the ability to communicate– for example in a noisy environment such as a restaurant.
Interestingly enough, the study also found a link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s risk, but the link was not as strong as between hearing loss and dementia.
The author of the study, Frank Lin, M.D. says that whatever causes dementia also causes hearing loss, but they don’t have clear evidence. He states that it is more likely that the stress caused by the effects of untreated hearing loss contributes to dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Previous studies have proven that those with untreated hearing loss experience fatigue, stress and frustration after spending extra energy trying to decipher what those around them are saying. This also contributes to social isolation, which has also been proven to contribute even more to dementia. Dr. Lin says that it could be a combination of those two– neurological stress and social isolation, that is the cause.
Unfortunately, people don’t tend to give hearing loss the same kind of attention they give other conditions such as high blood pressure. However, this research tells us that we may want to take a more serious look at treating hearing loss– not just as a matter of improving quality of life, but also as a matter of increasing over-all health.
Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a greater emphasis on hearing loss research and on finding the link between hearing loss and other aging related conditions.
If you would like a free hearing consultation with a Doctor of Audiology, please call our office at 801-770-0801.
You can read the full study from the Archives of Neurology here.