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Study Links Hearing Loss And Dementia

August 17, 2011 Leave a comment

According to a new study from John Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging, adults with significant hearing loss are at a much greater risk of developing dementia. The study followed 639 dementia-free adults ages 36 to 90. The participants in the study were tested for hearing loss and dementia every two years for nearly two decades. The researchers found that those with hearing loss at the beginning of the study were much more likely to develop dementia by the end, even after taking into account age and other risk factors. The risk of dementia only began to rise once hearing loss began to interfere with the ability to communicate, for example, in a noisy restaurant. The study also found that hearing loss increased the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but the two were not as strongly linked as hearing loss and other forms of dementia. Frank Lin, M.D., assistant professor of Otology at John Hopkins University and an author of the study says the research is the first major study that connects hearing loss to the development of dementia and could lead to additional research on the subject.

Lin says it may be that whatever causes dementia also causes hearing loss, but there is no clear evidence. He thinks it is more likely that the neurological stress of dealing with hearing loss contributes to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “If you are out to dinner with friends at a busy restaurant and it’s very, very loud, by the time you get home you’re exhausted, because you spend so much time trying to think about the words people are saying, to decipher everything,” he says. Dementia, the insidious loss of memory, logic and language that interferes with daily living is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide and carries a heavy societal burden. After age 85, nearly half of all seniors will have some level of cognitive impairment or dementia. Without proper care, people with dementia may eat poorly and irregularly and ignore exercise and social activity, all activities that could likely improve their health.  Family caregivers are usually the first to recognize that dementia may be developing and should seek medical evaluation as soon as the symptoms are noticed.Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, afflicting about 5 percent of seniors between sixty-five and seventy-four. However, nearly half of those over the age of eighty-five are affected.  Vascular dementia is considered the second most common form of dementia.

This type of dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to parts of the brain. One type of vascular dementia can occur after a single stroke blocks the flow of blood to a large part of the brain.  In another type of vascular dementia, a series of very small strokes block small arteries. Singularly, these strokes are small enough not to cause major symptoms, but over time, their combined effect becomes noticeable. Symptoms of vascular dementia can be similar to Alzheimer’s disease. They include problems with memory, confusion and difficulty following instructions. In some cases, the impairment associated with vascular dementia can be more rapid and marked. Alzheimer’s advances slowly, gradually causing crippling brain damage with symptoms that can include paranoia.
Although the reason for the link between hearing loss and dementia is unknown, the researchers in the study suggest that a common pathology may underlie both or that the strain of decoding sounds over the years may overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss, leaving them more vulnerable to dementia. They also speculate that hearing loss could lead to dementia by making individuals more socially isolated, a known risk factor for dementia and other cognitive disorders. Whatever the cause, the scientists report their findings may offer a starting point for interventions even as simple as hearing aids that could delay or prevent dementia by improving patients’ hearing.

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About The Author: Gloria Ha’o Schneider is an expert in senior citizen and baby boomer issues. Her topics revolve around Senior Living and Healthcare to provide the latest information to this demographic as well as their families and loved ones.

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