Not Using These Makes Your Dementia Risk Soar, Studies Show
If you've been told you need them, you'd be wise to follow orders.
With no known cure, dementia continues to pose a growing threat nationwide. Researchers are working to develop better medication and methods to combat symptoms in people already diagnosed, as well as studying the link between various controllable factors and a heightened risk of developing dementia later in life. For example, people who have certain vitamin deficiencies have a higher risk of dementia, as do those who don't engage in enough physical activity.
In addition, another factor is well within your control when it comes to developing dementia. Read on to discover how neglecting one certain aspect of your health can spike your risk of cognitive decline.
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Hearing loss significantly impacts your brain.
Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions we face as we get older. Nearly 70 percent of adults age 70 and over suffer from hearing loss in at least one ear, and more than 25 percent of those 60 years and up suffer from "disabling" hearing loss—which the World Health Organization defines as as "loss greater than 35 decibels (dB) in the better hearing ear."
The symptoms of hearing loss, such as asking someone to repeat themselves or habitually cranking up the TV volume, may seem like minor inconveniences—but they can lead to a lot of mental strain. "Our ears and brain work together to understand speech and process sounds, and when someone is suffering from hearing loss, their brain has to work harder," says Hope Lanter Au.D., lead audiologist at Hear.com. "It can be more difficult to follow conversations when you have to listen harder, read lips, or use additional context clues to get the message," she explains. "This extra stress on your brain can put you at an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia."
Researchers from Johns Hopkins even found that mild hearing loss doubled the risk of dementia. For those with moderate hearing loss, the risk tripled, and people with severe hearing loss were five times more likely to develop dementia.
Using hearing aids may decrease your risk of dementia.
Lanter explains that hearing aids not only help you to hear better, but also to remember more of what you hear and process information faster. However, limited analysis exists on whether the devices can actually prevent cognitive decline.
One 2021 study from the Alzheimer's Association helps fill this gap in research. This longitudinal retrospective study was split into two parts, with the first set up to observe 939 participants ages 50 and over with both hearing loss and cases of mild cognitive impairment. One section of the group used hearing aids over the course of the study, while the others did not. At the conclusion, researchers deduced that "participants that used hearing aids were at significantly lower risk of developing all-cause dementia compared to those not using hearing aids. The median time to dementia onset for hearing aid users was four years, compared with two years for non-users.
A similar 2019 study from the American Geriatrics Society supported the theory that hearing aids can delay the diagnosis of dementia, in addition to both anxiety and depression. Neither study, however, was able to determine actual causality, and more research into the topic is needed.
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Hearing aids may not benefit people already suffering from dementia.
Both studies found a significant link between hearing aid use and a delay of dementia onset for people with either mild or no known level of cognitive impairment. But it was not determined that hearing aids could help to reverse or stop the progression of dementia symptoms for those already suffering from the condition.
In the second component of the Alzheimer's Association study, participants diagnosed with dementia from the start were again split into two groups: those who used hearing aids and those who did not. Researchers then observed the effects hearing aids had on the participant's mortality risk. A statistically significant relationship between the two was not found—meaning that hearing aids were not found to further extend the lives of dementia patients.
Many people who need hearing aids don't use them.
Despite their benefits—both those that are known and those that are still being tested—fewer than 30 percent of older adults ages 70 and over with hearing loss actually use hearing aids. And that number drops even further for younger adults. With just one hearing aid averaging at around $2,000, the price tag is a definite setback—but other factors may also influence the decision.
"Cost has been a major barrier for those seeking hearing aids or treatment for a long time," says Lanter. "However, the primary reason that most adults do not use hearing aids is due to the stigma associated with aging and disability. In addition, some people do not believe their hearing loss is significant enough to warrant taking action or that hearing aids would be difficult to wear."
If you're concerned about your hearing and its possible link to your risk of dementia, speak with your doctor.
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