Contributed by: Dr. H. Frederick “Fritz” Butehorn, III, MD | Spartanburg Ear, Nose and Throat – Head & Neck Surgery
Several recent studies reveal a clear link between hearing loss and dementia. While cognitive disorders were once believed to be primarily linked to the natural aging process, new research shows other factors – including hearing loss – significantly affect cognitive health. Recent studies have also proven a correlation between the severity of hearing loss and developing memory problems. Thankfully additional research has shown that diseases like Alzheimer’s can be delayed or prevented with some simple practices.
Several studies have been conducted on the link between hearing loss and cognitive disorders. In one, the U.S. National Institute on Aging and Johns Hopkins University monitored 600 patients for signs of dementia over four years, discovering that patients older than 60 with hearing loss had a 35 percent higher risk of developing dementia than those with normal hearing. In addition, those with moderate to severe hearing loss developed cognitive disorders at a higher rate – for every additional hearing loss of 10 decibels, a patient’s risk for Alzheimer’s increased about 20 percent.1
Another recent study from Johns Hopkins University also found a link between hearing loss, cognitive decline and dementia. The research included more than 2,000 men and women age 75–84 which spanned over six years. It found that cognitive abilities among those with hearing loss declined 30–40 percent faster than in people with normal hearing. 2
These findings coincide with yet another study, published in 2014 and led by Dr. Richard Gurgel of University of Utah Health Care, who conducted research on more than 4,400 men and women ages 65 and older. This study showed that those with hearing loss at the beginning of the study developed dementia at a higher rate and earlier than those without a hearing loss.3
Now that this link is established, researchers are working to determine how your auditory system can be used to prevent or delay the onset of dementia. One study reveals that participating in brain exercises results in noticeable improvements in both hearing ability and the ability to focus on conversations. Audiologists have used this study to develop auditory training techniques that help manage hearing loss in their patients.4
Researchers are also in the midst of several long-term studies regarding the cognitive health effects of treating hearing loss with hearing aids. Even as these studies are underway, audiologists and otolaryngologists understand the importance of preventing cognitive decline early by treating a hearing loss as soon as it’s detected. With the right combination of early detection and effective hearing loss treatment, we can help patients regain control over their cognitive health.
- 1 Lin FR, et al. Hearing loss and incident dementia. Jama Neurology. 2011; 65(5): 582-590.
- 2 Lin FR, et al. Hearing loss and cognitive decline among older adults. Jama Internal Medicine. 2013; 173(4) 293-299.
- 3 Gurgel RK, et al. Relationship of hearing loss and dementia: A prospective, population-based study. Otology & Neurotology. 2014; 35(5): 775-781.
- 4 Kraus N. & Anderson S. In older adults, the brain can still be trained to hear in noise. The Hearing Journal. 2013; 66(5) 32.