November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Hearing loss is connected to a number of other health conditions. Several studies have indicated a link between it and cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Arthur Wingfield, who teaches Neuroscience at Brandeis University, has been studying cognitive aging and the link between memory and hearing. Wingfield’s research has shown that untreated hearing loss can lead to an increased amount of stress and poorer performance when it comes to memory tests.
“Even if you have just a mild hearing loss that is not being treated, cognitive load increases significantly,” said Wingfield. “You have to put in so much effort just to perceive and understand what is being said that you divert resources away from storing what you have heard into your memory.” This suggests that when your brain has to put in more effort to properly process and make sense of auditory information, your ability to retain that information may suffer.
A number of studies have also come out showing a link between hearing loss and dementia. In a 2011 study conducted by Frank Lin, an otologist and epidemiologist at John Hopkins University, and his colleagues’ indicated that seniors with hearing loss are more likely to develop forms of dementia over time than individuals with normal hearing. And in 2013 they found that “hearing loss is independently associated with the accelerated cognitive decline and incident impairment in community-dwelling older adults.” Which means that hearing loss, independent of other causes and contributors, was found to put people at greater risk of cognitive impairment.
Some experts believe that treating hearing loss with professionally fitted hearing aids could help delay dementia. Unfortunately, for many different reasons, a majority of individuals don’t seek treatment or tend to delay getting hearing aids for many years.
HOW HEARING AIDS SUPPORT HEALTHY BRAINS
Although research into the causal link between hearing loss and different forms of dementia is ongoing, a few studies suggest that keeping mentally active through social connections or other intellectual stimulation may lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Some ways to stay cognitively active and keep your brain healthy include:
- Staying socially engaged:There are many benefits of being socially active, like reducing the risk of dementia and depression. Volunteering, joining a club, or just interacting with friends and family can keep your brain active and keep your mind sharp.
- Maintaining a healthy diet:A diet that consists of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains while being low in fat and added sugar can keep your brain cells healthy and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, like obesity and cardiovascular disease. Eating foods with certain nutrients can help improve memory and slow down cognitive decline.
- Getting regular exercise:A number of studies have found an association between physical activity and a reduced risk of cognitive decline. Participating in activities like walking, dancing, or swimming can help lower blood pressure, reduce mental stress, and increase blood flow to the brain, which all helps with the prevention of Alzheimer’s.
- Stimulating your brain:Activities that are mentally stimulating help keep your brain healthy and have been shown to reduce the risk of dementia in seniors by as much as 75 percent. Simple ways to stimulate your mind include reading, word puzzles, and crafts.
The impact of untreated hearing loss shouldn’t be ignored. It causes emotional and physical difficulties that reduce your ability to fully enjoy life. Addressing hearing loss by seeing a hearing care professional, and if needed, getting fitted with hearing aids, is one important, proactive step you can take to ensure your long-term physical and mental health.