Do you notice that you, or someone in your life is struggling to remember things every now and then? It’s common to forget things every now and then – especially as we age, however, if it becomes more and more common an occurrence, it could signal a serious cognitive decline. Dementia is a grouping of neurodegenerative diseases, affecting the brain classified as the decline of two or more cognitive functions. The rate of dementia worldwide continues to rise. Currently 50 million people are reported to struggle with this devastating condition, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the number of people living with dementia is projected to triple to 150 million by 2050!
To combat the rising rates of dementia globally, it’s important that it must occur in one individual at a time. No one is safe from the risks of this neurodegenerative disease. While the rates increase as we age and due to family history of the condition, there are several factors we can control which can lower the risk of developing it earlier or at all. This can include staying active, social, and eating a healthy diet. Another important factor we have control of is addressing any potential hearing loss—the earlier the belter. A recent study found that untreated hearing loss has been associated with a 91 percent increase in the risk for dementia!
Age Related Hearing Loss
Presbycusis, also known as age related hearing loss, affects one in three over the age of 65 and half of those 75 years and older. Presbycusis is not a normal part of aging, but it does become more likely the older we get. As the risk goes up, it’s important to anticipate the risk and schedule annual hearing exams. Even a slight hearing loss can start to impact cognitive performance earlier in life. It often occurs from changes to the inner ear as we age – sometimes from unsafe listening choices earlier in life or from chronic health conditions such as hypertension, or diabetes which affects blood flow to the inner ear.
How Hearing Loss Impacts the Brain
We hear with our ears, but the sound must reach our brain for the process to be completed. This is achieved via tiny hair-like cells, called stereocilia, which transform audio waves into electrical impulses which the auditory cortex receives in order to interpret speech and identify sounds, as well as the direction the sounds are coming from. As these cells become damaged, the sounds often can’t reach the brain, causing it to work harder to follow conversation and identify sounds. This listening fatigue can have a significant impact on cognitive health and increases the risk of dementia significantly. In fact a prominent study from Dr. George Lin and team at Johns Hopkins University found that the greater the hearing loss the higher the risk of dementia. A moderate hearing loss doubled the risk, while a severe loss tripped the risk—meanwhile a profound hearing loss increased the risk five-fold!
Hearing Aids Strengthen Brain Health
While there is no way to reverse hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear (sensorineural) it can be treated using hearing aids. These amazing devices amplify the sounds you struggle to hear, improving communication and awareness of the world. Two important studies have led the way in documenting the importance of hearing aids in strengthening cognitive health and reducing the risk of dementia:
- University of Melbourne Study: researchers assessed the impact wearing hearing aids had on brain health for a cohort of 100 between the ages of 62-82. The patients were monitored over 18 months and found that “97% of participants showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function (mental ability to plan, organize information and initiate tasks)”.
- Study Published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society: by performing memory tests on 2,000 people (ages 50 and older), researchers found that wearing hearing aids improved test scores and cognitive functions which encourage brain health.
Don’t Let Cognitive Health Slip Away
The New Year is right around the corner and this means it’s a great time to invest in an important change which could improve your future as well as the future for those who love you. Contact us today to learn more about how you can protect your hearing health.