You may see hearing loss and dementia talked about together. While they are both more common as you get older, there is more to it than that as the two are actually linked. 

Many people don't realize that hearing is actually a brain function, your ears collect the sound, and then your brain translates it into recognizable noises that alert you to danger, gives you the information you need to have a conversation with someone or allows you to enjoy the chorus of our favorite song. According to a study from the University of Colorado's Department of Speech and Hearing, when you are experiencing hearing loss, your brain reassigns the part devoted to hearing to other senses, such as your sense of sight and touch and this is called brain atrophy.

Brain atrophy in older adults could be the reason why people with untreated hearing loss are more at risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease. A study by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care and another from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that treating your hearing loss may be one way to lower your risk of developing these conditions. 

Scientists are finding increasing evidence that if you are experiencing hearing loss, then you are more likely to go on to have dementia. This doesn't mean that if you have hearing loss, then you are guaranteed to have dementia too, it just means that the odds are higher. 

Feelings of isolation

It may come as no surprise to learn that people who have hearing loss tend to feel more isolated than those that don't. When you have hearing loss, it is harder to join in conversations or to be social with others when you can't hear what they are saying. People feel embarrassed asking others to speak up or to repeat themselves, so they tend to either avoid more social occasions or when they are socializing, they keep to themselves.

When people struggle to converse, they are less likely to want to socialize in groups or go out to restaurants. Some research has shown that there is a link between feeling lonely, isolated and dementia, and it's not that isolation causes the hearing loss may make mental decline happen faster than it would otherwise. Being socially isolated has been recognized for a long time as a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.

Your brain working harder

When you have hearing loss, your brain must work harder to process sounds, so this means that it could take away resources that it could use for other important activities. Cognitive load is essential, and the effort of constantly straining to understand what people are saying or to hear people really stress the brain. So, if you're putting in a lot of effort just to comprehend what you're hearing, then it takes resources that would otherwise be available for encoding what you hear in memory. 

There'll be fewer signals to your brain

If your ears can no longer pick up on as many sounds, your hearing nerves will send fewer signals to your brain. Hearing loss might affect your brain structure in a way that contributes to cognitive problems; certain structures of brain cells can shrink when they don't get enough stimulation. As a result, the brain declines.

But does say that it is important to find out whether providing state-of-the-art hearing loss treatment can prevent or delay cognitive decline and dementia. 

If you have hearing loss, then you really should get it checked out as soon as possible and not leave it. You don't want there to be more problems but also if you get it early on, then you will be able to get it treated in the best way possible. 

Can you prevent it?

The best way to prevent dementia induced by untreated hearing loss is to visit an audiologist. The strongest connection between hearing loss and dementia is allowing it to remain untreated, causing more atrophy to occur. Meeting with an audiologist enables them to test your hearing and determine if you have a loss present. If they determine you have hearing loss, a hearing aid will be recommended to preserve your current ability, as well as help prevent future loss. Hearing aids come in a variety of sizes, whether you prefer something small like an in the canal style or a powerful behind-the-ear device.  

To learn more about Imagine Hearing Solutions, you can contact a member of our team by calling at (530) 392-4533.