Hearing Loss and Dementia

New research has found a link between hearing loss and your cognitive abilities, including your memory, mental health, and more. That is why it is important for your overall well being to have hearing loss treated as soon as possible. 

Hearing Loss and Mental Health

When you develop hearing loss, it comes back to how much of our mental health and mood is tied to activities that require hearing. Things like socializing and staying in touch with friends and loved ones is a big one. It also includes things like TV shows, movies, music, and so on. Our ability to do our jobs or take classes to improve our skills and education also rely on hearing.


When someone has untreated hearing loss, they slowly have all these things withdrawn from them. It may be something you can go without in the short term, but hearing loss is forever. Eventually, it can cause your mental health to decline. 


Untreated hearing loss has been found to be a risk factor and cause of the following mental health issues.

Hearing Loss and Social Isolation

A common behaviour observed in people with hearing loss is that they tend to withdraw from social situations. When people cannot hear as well, it puts a lot of mental strain on the person to try and follow conversations. 


First, they have to focus a lot harder to hear as much as they can, which causes mental fatigue. This makes socializing more of a chore than a source of joy. Second, it can make people feel embarrassed when they cannot hear as well as they could before. In both cases, many people will choose to avoid socializing to avoid mental fatigue and self-consciousness. 


This social isolation also leads to loneliness, and this is a much more significant issue in people younger than 70 years old. In fact, one study found that for every decibel of hearing loss increased the chances that a person younger than 70 became severely lonely by 7%.

Hearing Loss and Depression, Anxiety

The increase in social isolation is one of many reasons why there is a link between hearing loss and things like depression and anxiety. 


For depression, it comes from everything that hearing loss takes away. Hearing is a necessary component for so many things that bring people comfort and joy. According to one study, the estimated percentage of people with moderate to severe depression was 11.4% in people with any difficulty hearing. The estimated percentage was almost twice as much as the 5.9% of people with no hearing loss.


For anxiety, it comes from the confusion, mental fatigue and source of fear and embarrassment that some people with hearing loss feel. When you have untreated hearing loss, people may be anxious about how it impacts their lives. You may worry about losing your job, not being able to speak with your family, and more. According to one study, the odds of developing anxiety was three times as high among those with mild hearing loss vs no hearing loss. For people with moderate or severe hearing loss, it was five times more likely.

Hearing Loss and Cognitive Abilities

Untreated hearing loss can also affect your cognitive abilities. The less auditory stimulation you receive on a regular basis, the less you receive cognitive stimulation. That can lead to your mental faculties going unused, and declining over time as a result. 

This is referred to as cognitive decline.

Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Back in 1997, a clinical study was performed to determine the extent of cognitive decline that can occur due to hearing loss. It surveyed almost 2,000 adults, mostly seniors, who did not yet have any cognitive issues. At regular intervals after a certain number of years, every participant would be given a hearing test and two types of cognitive testing in order to separate the participants into groups of different levels of hearing to measure how it affected cognitive decline.


Of the 1,984 trial participants, 1,162 of them showed at least minimal hearing loss. This group showed a rate of cognitive decline that was 41% and 32% greater (depending on the specific test) than those who had normal hearing. As a result, the people with hearing loss were assessed to have a 24% increased risk of cognitive impairment during a six year period.


What does cognitive decline and cognitive impairment mean? It refers to a loss of basic cognitive abilities, such as:


  • Memory
  • Problem solving
  • Sight and other sensory perceptions
  • Emotions and emotional control
  • Speech
  • Self-control and impulse control
  • Muscle control


When your cognitive abilities decline too much, it can lead to more serious conditions such as dementia. 

Untreated Hearing Loss and Dementia

Does hearing loss cause dementia? No, or at least there has been no clinical research which has confirmed a direct link between the two. What the existing research has found is that hearing loss can lead to an increased risk of cognitive decline. Separate research has found that cognitive decline can lead to an increased risk of developing dementia. This includes Alzheimer’s disease, which is a type of dementia. 


A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed the increased risk by the severity of hearing loss. Here is a breakdown of how much more likely a person is to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s than someone with normal hearing:


  • Mild hearing loss: two times as likely
  • Moderate hearing loss: three times as likely
  • Severe hearing loss: five times as likely


So while it may not be a direct cause, having hearing loss is indirectly a significant risk factor for developing dementia. This is especially true if the hearing loss goes untreated for a long period of time. 

Can Hearing Aids Prevent Dementia and Cognitive Decline?

There is evidence from other research that you can mitigate the increased risks on your mental and cognitive health. A University of Michigan study investigated data of 115,000 people who had hearing loss and were 66 years old or older. It looked at anonymous data of people with insurance coverage between the years 2008 and 2016. 


The results of the study found that people aged 66+ who had hearing aids for their diagnosed hearing loss had a lower risk for any cognitive impact. People using hearing aids were less likely to be diagnosed with the following conditions over the next three years:


  • Anxiety and depression: 11% lower
  • Dementia, including Alzheimer’s: 18% lower


People who do not seek any treatment after being diagnosed with hearing loss showed a much higher risk for these conditions. The study noted their research only confirmed an association between hearing aids and reducing these risks. They recommended randomized trials were needed to determine the full extent of how much hearing aids can help mitigate the risks.

Having hearing loss without getting treatment or invention can have a significant impact on your well being. It is a significant risk factor for developing a number of mental health and cognitive issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. It also can lead to social isolation, depression and anxiety,  


This is why it is always recommended to have your hearing tested at least every couple of  years. If you have any major risk factors for hearing loss, such as age or certain health conditions, you should get tested every year or two. There are a number of different treatment options that may help you improve your hearing, depending on the underlying cause. 


If you think you or a loved one are showing signs of hearing loss, you can start by taking a free online hearing screening test. You just need an internet connection and a pair of headphones, and you can do it from the comfort of your own home. Our online hearing screening takes a few minutes, and you can have the results emailed to you. It will tell you if you are showing signs of hearing loss.

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