Hearing loss and the risk of developing dementia
Hearing loss and deafness are disorders that impair hearing. Deafness can cause a person to stop hearing completely. These disorders can be caused by familiar background, ear infection diseases, meningitis (an inflammation of the tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord), trauma, various medication, exposure to loud noises, and aging, amongst others. Hearing loss is fairly common, it affects elders, and occurs generally on both ears at the same time and gradually. Medical problems as high pressure or diabetes can also contribute to hearing impairment.
There are two hearing loss types. The first one can happen because of an injury on the internal ear or the auditory nerve and is generally permanent. The second one is when sound waves cannot reach the internal ear, this can happen because of ear wax accumulation or a perforation of the tympanum. If a hearing problem is not treated it may worsen. Studies have shown that hearing problems can lead to dementia.
Dementia and hearing loss are considered neurological diseases, being common in the elderly. An analysis had as an objective to demonstrate hearing loss as a risk factor for dementia; the study included 17 prospective cohort studies and showed that hearing loss is associated independently with a higher incidence of dementia and cognitive decay.
Multiple theories exist about how hearing loss is associated with dementia, such as the theory of cognitive load, psychosocial theory, and the common cause or neurobiological pathology theory. Reviewing of the cognitive load theory states that as hearing diminishes, mental resources divert to hearing perception, that is, that the cognitive activities are neglected because of hearing loss, producing mental disorders.
Another study shows the close relation between hearing loss and the risk of developing dementia. A French study has followed 3,800 people for a 25 year period, showing that elderly people that manifest hearing loss have a higher risk of dementia. Previous results documented hearing disorders related independently with a faster cognitive deterioration in elderly people. An Australian study concluded the same results, showing that Australian elder men reporting some degree of hearing loss have an incremented 69% risk of dementia than the ones who did not report some hearing disorder.
If you have difficulty hearing it is of utmost importance to seek professional help. There are many kinds of professionals that can help, such as an otolaryngologist, an audiologist, or a specialist in hearing aid. All of them capable of diagnosing hearing problems and offer treatment.
Reviewers: Brenda Giselle Álvarez Rodríguez (Public Health Research Unit) and Cassandra Saldaña Pineda (Knowledge Management Unit)
- Article: “Hearing loss as a risk factor for dementia: A systematic review”. (2017). Otology, Neurotology and Neuroscience
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
- Heart – it