Dementia: Hearing Loss Can Be A Hidden Element

Hearing Health & Technology Matters
April 16, 2013

Dementia has been in the news more recently, or maybe I am just becoming more aware.  In my topics of relationships and what affects them most, dementia would be the pinnacle of a disease that tops anything on a list I can come up with.  Dementia takes the personality away from those we know and love.  I remember when my Grandmother started to forget us.  One of my sisters went through a time when Annie (because she really did not like us to call her Grandma) called her Lucille instead of Louise.  She eventually came back to Louise but this was my first experience with Dementia when I was around 12.  It was a bit confusing for me to work this out from what I knew of this very strong-willed woman.

Frank Lin and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University has been conducting several long-term studies on dementia.  He describes several high risk-factors for dementia, including isolation, which can be a side-effect of hearing loss.  Cognitive load processing is more difficult for those with hearing loss and makes it more tiring for them to follow a conversation.

Recently, Dr. Lin has been researching whether there is a connection between hearing loss and dementia.  It is unknown if such a connection could be genetic or environmental, but there seems to be an underlying pathological structure that influences both.  Dr. Lin continues to follow up on this link.  Earlier this year he published another study, using a long standing database showing those with a hearing loss had a “30 to 40 percent faster rate of loss of thinking and memory abilities” than those without a hearing loss.  The rates of cognitive decline and hearing loss were directly related in this study.

Dr. Lin is conducting further research into how hearing aids may influence these changes in the brain.  We have noted in previous posts that wearing the devices positively affects our lives. Now Dr. Lin is delving into how the use of hearing aids–along with such related issues as the follow-up by the provider, how the instruments were fit, and assistive devices–affects an individual or has an impact on cognition at all.

A few weeks ago a study was released on how Dementia affects longevity.  Dementia affects so many aspects of a person’s life that research is finding that those with dementia die earlier than those without .  Those who are at high risk for dementia genetically have more issues to be concerned with.  I ran across an excellent article in the New York Times  from the perspective of someone with hearing loss who has a history of dementia in her family.  She is following Dr. Lin’s studies very closely.  She, like our own Gael Hannan, is a model for those with hearing loss.  They wear their devices (hearing aids and or cochlear implants) and they get out into the world, even when it is so much more challenging than it would be without a hearing loss.  Katherine Bouton, an editor for the NY Times, is ever hopeful that what we suspect, namely that taking care of your hearing loss early, helps stave off dementia.  Not only for a cognitive reason, but for quantity and quality of life issues as well.

  1. I had a patient last year who was practically non-verbal and I was told he had very severe dementia…. Well, after getting him new hearing aids, it was like a completely different person. He could carry on conversation–no problem at all! It baffles me how so much of the testing for dementia is done verbally and yet so few people are referred for hearing tests prior to such exams… Hopefully with all the publicity on Frank Lin’s research over the past year or so, more MDs will be aware of these issues and start referring for hearing issues on a regular basis–especially for those that are suspected of having memory problems or early stages of Alzheimer’s.

    1. That’s heartbreaking – especially because it’s not unusual! We hear, all the time, of people in long term care facilities who have been ‘written off’ as having dementia, when in fact they simply can’t hear. Or their hearing aids are plugged with wax.

      1. mjaudseo

        Isn’t it Gael! We have tried to train in long term care facilities but there has been such high turn over in the employees I find it hard to keep up. You do a wonderful job at getting the word out!

    2. mjaudseo

      I hope so too! Reaching out to the physicians with this information is so very important. Thank you for your input!

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