The Threat of Hearing Loss

Did you know that hearing loss can lead to poorer brain function?

Along with more seasonable weather, and maybe the promise a few beach days, the month of June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. Since 1980, people have been going purple to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s support and to accelerate research.  The Alzheimer’s Association even points out that June 20th, the summer solstice and normally the longest day of the year, is our chance to “fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s.”

And if you, or anyone you know has been ignoring their hearing issues, then this is a good time to visit a hearing professional. This is because it has become clear that untreated hearing loss can lead to cognitive brain performance issues, including Alzheimer’s.

Studies published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, The American Journal of Epidemiology, Archives of Neurology, and other peer-reviewed journals have all shown links between poor hearing and brain issues. And still others have shown that treating hearing loss effectively, especially with hearing aids, can lessen or eliminate the consequences.

Poor hearing can lead to social isolation, which heightens loneliness, which can lead to depression and dementia. More directly, the lack of activity in the part of the brain that interacts with the ears via the auditory nerve can atrophy due to lack of activity. This appears to be a process that is not necessarily localized.

“Brain scans show us that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain,” according to Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., a research director at Johns Hopkins. In fact, even mild hearing loss, when left untreated, doubled dementia risk, moderate loss tripled the risk, and those with severe hearing impairments were five times more likely to develop dementia.

There’s no reason to put off a hearing exam.