Untreated Hearing loss Linked to Increased Likelihood of Dementia
A study examining the link between dementia onset and hearing loss showed a concerning connection. Published by the Archives of Neurology, The U.S. National Institute on Aging study showed more than 35 percent of dementia risk in patients older than 60 was linked to hearing loss.
The cognitive and hearing tests were given over a four-year period and monitored more than 600 patients for signs of dementia. At the conclusion of the study, 58 patients were diagnosed with dementia. The researchers then cross-referenced their data and found risk for a degenerative cognitive disorder increased with moderate to severe hearing loss. They reported for every additional loss of 10 decibels of hearing capacity the risk for Alzheimer’s jumped 20 percent.
The study suggests several theories for this correlation but insists more research is needed to find the exact relationship. “Hearing loss might result from damage to nerve cells," Dr. Richard B. Lipton said. "That means damage to the hearing organ and inner ear structure called the cochlea, and the hair cells that pick up the pattern of vibration the sound produces in the ear. And if there's damage to the neurons that mediate hearing, that may be a kind of marker for similar damage to nerve cells involved in memory and higher cognition.”
Lipton also suggests social isolation accompanying hearing loss could lead to less cognitive engagement – a vital interaction to protect against dementia: “And that would mean that the loss of cognitive stimulation could itself contribute to the risk for Alzheimer's," Lipton said.
Regardless, this new study shows dementia and Alzheimer’s has less to do with chronological age and is encouraging researchers to focus on biological age and the overall health and lifestyle of patients who show early signs of cognitive decline. Your first step to battling Alzheimer’s should be to schedule a hearing test.