Hearing loss can be much more than inconvenient, especially for a senior citizen. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders you have a one in three chance of diminished hearing if you are between 65 and 74 and nearly a 50 percent chance if you are 75 and older. This post is part of our discussion of hearing loss among the elderly.
Deafness and dementia
For whatever reason, people with hearing loss are at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
According to a 2011 study published in the Archives of Neurology, the chances that you will develop some form of dementia rise dramatically with hearing loss: twofold if you have mild hearing loss, threefold if you have moderate hearing loss, and nearly fivefold if you have severe hearing loss.
Unfortunately, the reasons for the connection are less clear than the connection itself. The authors are skeptical that hearing loss and dementia could occur in the same part of the brain, and they are likewise skeptical that the two problems share a common cause, such as vascular disease.
One possible contributor, though, seems clear: As you lose your hearing you become socially isolated. No one wants to keep asking people to repeat themselves, or to be the one being asked. And certainly no one wants to sit in a group and be the only one who isn’t part of the conversation.
The authors make this point clearly:
Communication impairments caused by hearing loss can also lead to social isolation in older adults, and epidemiologic and neuroanatomic studies have demonstrated associations between poor social networks and dementia. Our results also seem to support this possible pathway because the risk of dementia associated with hearing loss appeared to only increase at hearing thresholds of greater than 25 dB, which is considered the threshold at which hearing loss begins to impair verbal communication.
So, as your hearing becomes weaker you withdraw from others, and they withdraw from you. Without the human interactions that most of us need, our brains become less active and we suffer the consequences.
Fortunately, there’s something you can do about hearing loss. Get down to your audiologist’s and get tested. If you need a hearing aid, get one and wear it. Not only will you be helping to keep your mind alert, you’ll be having more fun.
Information for this post comes from Andy Houck, owner and administrator of Stay at Home of Loudon.