What’s the Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia?

What’s the Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia?

  • Apr 08, 2021

As researchers continue to examine a range of health problems that affect older Americans, a picture is beginning to emerge linking hearing loss to dementia. Hearing loss affects nearly 50 million Americans, with the most significant demographic being those in their 70s. For many years, hearing loss was considered a normal part of the overall aging process, yet recent studies have begun to show hearing loss plays a significant role in mental health decline.


Here we will discuss some of the new research that is now linking hearing loss with dementia:


Severity of Hearing Loss Directly Linked to Cognitive Decline

Research now shows that depending on the severity of the hearing loss an individual experiences may be directly related to the chances of developing dementia. Meaning, the more significant someone’s hearing loss, the greater chance they are to experience dementia and cognitive decline symptoms. 


Here are some startling figures outlining the connection:


  • A normal hearing range is 0-25 db. People with mild hearing loss (25-45 db) are at double the risk of developing dementia as those who have not experienced hearing loss.
  • Individuals with moderate hearing loss (45-65 db) are three times more likely to experience cognitive decline.
  • Those with severe hearing loss (65-85 db) or profound hearing loss (85+ db) are as much as five times more likely to suffer from dementia.
  • Early research indicates that with every 10-decibel increase in one’s ability to hear, the additional risk of developing dementia rises by 20%. For older adults over the age of 60, 36% of the risk for cognitive decline is directly related to hearing impairment.

Physiology and Comorbidity

The first possible link between hearing loss and dementia may be a physiological pathway contributing to hearing loss and dementia. This would be something along the lines of high blood pressure. Yet, current research uses statistical modeling to consider such factors that could be linked to both conditions. Thus, most often, the physiological consequences of a common cause are not regarded as plausible by many studying cognitive decline and hearing loss.

Increased Strain on Cognitive Capabilities

Another possible explanation for the link between cognitive capabilities and hearing loss is the additional strain placed on the brain when attempting to compensate for reduced hearing ability. Some researchers have said this makes sense as resources used for retaining memory and problem solving may be diverted to overcome hearing loss. Over time, this process could contribute to a decline in brain resilience.

Further research is being conducted to examine this potential cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and dementia to discover how these mechanisms within the brain interact with one another.

Physical Alteration in Brain Structure

Another factor to consider is that the loss of hearing contributes to changes in the physical structure of the brain. These changes alter the brain's ability to process information correctly and contribute to cognitive impairment. Some studies involving the medical imaging of the brain have shown that seniors with hearing loss have reduced gray matter in portions of their brains that handle sound and speech recognition. There is still a significant amount of speculation regarding the impact of reduced cellular structure within the brain and its relation to both hearing loss and dementia.

Social Isolation

Finally, the social isolation caused by the lack of hearing may play a role in cognitive decline. Having hearing loss tends to isolate an individual from others for many reasons. The inability to hear friends and family when they speak means one would be less likely to participate in social events, both big and small. Additionally, social isolation has already been shown to play a significant role in cognitive impairment.

In Conclusion

More research is needed to clarify the association between hearing loss and dementia. Fortunately, many doctors are now working on additional studies to shed more light on this critical topic. However, studies show that the use of hearing aids reduces the risk of cognitive decline and developing dementia.

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