Studies suggest that older people with hearing loss are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and hearing loss can be associated with a faster rate of cognitive decline. Why is this?
Researchers have several theories:
- One has to do with cognitive load. With untreated hearing loss, the brain gets overworked by constantly straining to understand speech and sound. An overworked brain doesn’t work efficiently.
- Another has to do with brain structure. Brain cells can shrink from lack of stimulation, including the parts of the brain that receive and process sound.
- The last theory is social isolation. When a person has trouble hearing conversations and socializing, they may prefer staying home instead. However, the more isolated a person becomes, the less stimuli their brain receives.
A 2016 study analyzing health insurance claims of 154,783 seniors concluded that hearing impairment increases the risk of dementia and that to some extent this happens regardless of medical treatment. A 2017 article in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience cited two studies that found people wearing hearing aids improved their performance on cognitive tests. The article said hearing aids, when prescribed at the beginning of age-related hearing loss, can postpone cognitive side effects.
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