A new study has found that poor hearing may contribute to memory and cognitive problems in older patients. In a newly published article included in JAMA Internal Medicine, a link between hearing loss and memory issues, including dementia, was identified. There has been growing evidence to this point, which has placed a spotlight on the benefits of ensuring older Americans can hear.
In the study, a researcher found that patients with poor hearing showed a decline in memory function within seven and a half years, while those with normal hearing showed no decline memory function for eleven years. Compared to elderly patients with normal hearing, those with hearing problems were 24% more likely to have memory and cognitive deficits. According to the study, the more severe the hearing loss, the more likely patients are to experience cognitive decline.
Currently, researchers are unsure why hearing loss is contributing to memory loss, but it is hypothesized that patients with hearing loss are less likely to engage in social interaction or other events that would lead to interacting with others. According to other studies, a feeling of loneliness and social isolation is linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Thus, having a large social network, and engaging in many social interactions could help to reduce the risk of developing dementia. It has also been suggested that because the brain is required to utilize more energy to process language, it may be harder for it to process memories, which can lead to decay in the portion of the brain responsible for processing memory.
In current studies, patients who had hearing loss and wore hearing aids to correct their hearing had lower rates of cognitive decline. So, fortunately, there is an upside to this possible connection, and treating hearing loss aggressively could help to stave off dementia. This information is becoming more common, and it can help to focus a doctor’s attention to correct hearing when a patient with suspected dementia presents
. This is a relatively simple fix that can have a large impact on a patient’s quality of life as they age.
It is vitally important that patients act as their own advocate and have their hearing tested regularly to ensure that it can be corrected as soon as a problem develops to help prevent cognitive decline.
We recommend that patients’ hearing be tested once a year as a precaution. Regular testing can help to determine if hearing loss is occurring and, if it is, at what rate and degree your hearing is changing. The longer a patient waits to get their hearing corrected, the longer it will take to restore optimal hearing performance.
To correct hearing, patients will more than likely require hearing aids. In addition to hearing aids, patients can use assistive listening devices, like a vibrating alarm clock, captioned phones, amplified telephones or headphones, and alerting devices. All of these tools can be used to provide a complete hearing solution for patients. It is important to seek guidance about which treatment will be the best for you, and based on your insurance, it may dictate which hearing aid you can purchase.
Patients can also develop hearing loss because of a blockage in the ear canal, which can be caused by earwax, a foreign object, or an ear infection. These things can be easily treated, either with the removal of earwax or with antibiotics. In these instances, hearing loss is temporary and can be reversed; the patient will continue to be monitored to determine if another hearing solution needs to be implemented.
To maintain your health, it is important to have regular check-ups, and this includes for your hearing health. Especially as you age, you should have your hearing tested annually. Even if you do not notice a decline in your hearing, catching any slight decline in your hearing function can help to ensure aggressive hearing correction if it’s needed. Further regular testing can provide information about the nature of your hearing loss and can make it easier for your doctor to correct any decline in hearing that you have.
Also, if you or a loved one is suspected of having dementia, hearing should be one of the functions that is also tested and potentially corrected. Since there is a link between the disease states, it is important that hearing is corrected if a patient is having cognitive memory issues.
We encourage you and your loved ones to schedule regular appointments to have your hearing tested. It is an important part of your health and, based on current research, it can help to stave off dementia and other forms of cognitive decline.