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Hearing Loss and Dementia
By Dr. Megan Myers-Auria, CCC-A

Many older adults show signs of dementia: not responding, not remembering, and inappropriate responding. But some of these signs are signs of hearing loss as well. Worldwide, there are 55 million people living with dementia. That number is projected to grow to 78 million in 2030, and by 2050; 139 million. There are 430 million people worldwide experiencing moderate and greater hearing loss. This number is projected to grow to 700 by 2050. By then 1 in 14 people will require some type of hearing care. So, what do these two health issues have in common?

Both hearing loss and dementia symptoms run hand in hand. Does the person have untreated hearing loss that mimics dementia? Since we hear with our brain and dementia is a loss of a brain function the differential diagnosis will help to decipher. In 2020 the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care specified 12 modifiable risk factors for Dementia. One of the risk factors is hearing loss. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) states that in the US, 8.5% of adults ages 55-64, 25% of older adults 65-74, and 50% of adults older than 75 have a hearing loss of 35 dB or greater. A study conducted by Mahmoudi et al, in Michigan, showed that hearing aid use in the first three years of hearing loss diagnosis can reduce the risk of dementia, depression, and injurious falls.

Johns Hopkins recently published an article with an updated study on the effects of hearing loss and dementia. Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., has been on the study since the beginning. Researchers have questioned that: Could hearing aids reduce the risk of a person developing dementia? Lin explains the connection between the two conditions and where the science is headed. Lin states that with the connection between the brain and hearing loss, when you are unable to hear correctly- the brain works harder and it is more difficult to fill in the gaps and having more strain. This strain could cause a lot of mental and physical exhaustion. This would also come at the expense of working memory. Lin also mentioned another possibility that untreated hearing loss can cause the aging brain to shrink more quickly. This can lead to isolation. Fewer social engagements can lead to the brain being engaged less and less active.

Lin’s study is also looking at the efficacy of hearing aids and reducing the risk of dementia. These studies are becoming more prevalent in our everyday life. We are learning more about how we actually hear with our brain and not our ears. These studies are showing that there are treatable options if caught and treated early enough.

If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of difficulty in hearing the TV, in groups, on the phone, hearing and communicating with masks, or understanding conversations in general; contact Swift Audiology today at (724) 222-9010 for an evaluation at one of our four locations.

Megan Myers-Auria is Doctor of Audiology at Swift Audiology. The practice provides hearing loss services, hearing protection, and medical hearing aid devices to patients at 4 convenient offices throughout the Pittsburgh region. For more information, visit swiftaudiology.com or call (412) 274-7285.

Dona MP Jayakody (November/ December 2021) Hearing Loss and Dementia, Audiology Today, 12-15 Frank R. Lin, MD, PhD, (November 2021) Hearing Loss and the Dementia Connection.

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