Sound Advice For Physicians: Hearing Loss & Dementia

Sound Advice For Physicians: Hearing Loss & Dementia

Hearing loss and dementia is a hot topic in the field of audiology. Dementia can be devastating to both individuals and families. Some risk factors for dementia include low social interactions and activities, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes and hypertension. Research has now identified a possible connection between dementia and hearing loss.  Hearing loss is independently associated with dementia when adjusted for age, sex, education, race, smoking, diabetes and hypertension. In particular, hearing loss was associated with lower scores on tests of executive function and memory. Tests were completed in a quiet room, face-to-face and with an examiner who is familiar working with older adults.

While the connection between hearing loss and dementia is unknown at this time it may be caused by several different mechanisms. First, hearing loss and dementia may have common neuropathologic process. Second, hearing loss may cause a decrease in cognitive reserve. In other words, the burden of difficult listening environments over time in those with hearing loss may put a strain on such processes as working memory. Third, social isolation and/or loneliness as a result of hearing loss may contribute to higher risk of dementia. Studies have shown that individuals who are active and engaged have a lower dementia risk. If hearing loss and dementia are related through this mechanism it is possible that hearing aids and aural rehabilitation may play a role in the prevention of dementia. This would have far reaching applications and area that warrants further study.

Lin, F., Ferrucci, L., Metter, E., An, Y., Zonderman, A., & Resnick, S. (2011). Hearing loss and cognition in the Baltimore

longitudinal study of aging. Neuropsychology, 25(6), 763-770.

Lin, F., Metter, E., O’Brien, R., Resnick, S., Zonderman, A., & Ferrucci, L. (2011). Hearing loss and incident dementia. Archives of

     Neurology, 68(2), 214-220.

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