As evidence increases showing that there may be a connection between hearing loss and dementia, the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) is urging hearing checks among Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Because most hearing loss can be managed with hearing aids, BHI also is encouraging those with hearing loss to be fitted with hearing aids when appropriate. BHI's outreach efforts come in recognition of World Alzheimer's Day—September 21.
To make it easier for anyone to determine if they need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional, BHI is offering a free, quick, and confidential online hearing check at www.hearingcheck.org.
Several studies have looked at the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive function. One such study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging, and published in the Archives of Neurology, found that seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing. The study also found that the more hearing loss they had, the higher their likelihood of developing dementia.
According to the Johns Hopkins press release on the study, the reason for the link between the two conditions is unknown, but the investigators 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.
According to BHI, these research findings should prompt people to take hearing loss seriously. BHI encourages Boomers and Gen Xers especially to get their hearing tested by a hearing healthcare professional who can provide a thorough examination and, if needed, fit them for hearing aids.
In an effort to improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer's disease, BHI advocates that hearing checks, hearing healthcare, and hearing aids when appropriate, be included in their regimen of care. According to the Institute, unaddressed hearing loss can present an added, unnecessary strain on individuals with Alzheimer's disease, and also on caregivers who suffer from hearing loss themselves. BHI also advocates that hearing checks and hearing healthcare be part of the diagnostic process.
Studies show that although a significantly higher percentage of people with Alzheimer's disease may have hearing loss, they're also much less likely to receive attention for their hearing needs than their normally aging peers.
Research also shows that the use of hearing aids among Alzheimer's patients with hearing loss, in combination with appropriate aural rehabilitation in a multidisciplinary setting, can help alleviate the symptoms of depression, passivity, negativism, disorientation, anxiety, social isolation, feelings of helplessness, loss of independence and general cognitive decline.
Because healthy hearing helps people remain socially and cognitively engaged, BHI urges all Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and others to make hearing checks a regular part of their preventive healthcare.