Untreated hearing loss and risks of cognitive decline and dementia

Untreated hearing loss usually take its toll on the patient gradually. According to the American Hearing Loss Association of America, almost 50 million Americans suffer from varying degrees of hearing loss. Many of these are those over 65 years. At 75 years, about a half of the population have the problem. Early intervention can help to prevent some hearing loss complications but sadly only about a quarter of all sufferers who could have benefited from such action seek help.
Interestingly, those who get diagnosed with early hearing loss take as long as 10 years before seeing the need to be fitted with a hearing aid. One of the factors that contribute to this delay is patient denial. But there are many more factors as noted in a study published in the Aging Mental Health, August 2014. What are the consequences of untreated hearing loss?

Results of ignoring hearing loss

  • Physical exhaustion. This follows intense brain overwork as it tries to comprehend what others are saying.
  • Mental issues. Depression is common due to failure to communicate effectively, focus and participate in meaningful conversation with others.
  • Emotional problems. The inability to have clear dialogue with loved ones creates more stress and relative loneliness. Relationship difficulties can result as an early complication of this disorder.
  • Financial implications. People with hearing loss gradually lose their ability to earn compared to those without the problem.
  • Loss of balance. Loss of hearing increases the risk of falls and other accidents.
  • Increased risk of falling sick and hospitalization.
  • Failing cognitive ability and higher risk of dementia. This is one of the worst late complications.

How does hearing loss contribute to poor cognition and dementia?

Our ears are only channels or accessories for hearing. It is our brain that helps us to interpret sounds. This happens by stimulating specific parts of the brain. If this doesn’t happen, then these parts start to shrink. This can be likened to a muscle that is no longer used. With time, such muscle atrophies. This is called disuse atrophy.
If no intervention is initiated, speech recognition gradually fails because the brain can no longer accurately differentiate different speech sounds. With time, as noted above, the brain loses some of its cognitive powers. Eventually dementia sets in. scientist have not yet fully understood how this comes about and studies in that area are ongoing.

What can be done to prevent cognitive and accelerated dementia due to hearing loss?

If hearing loss is diagnosed early and effective steps are taken, then the loss of brain functions associated with hearing loss can be prevented. This can be done by correcting the problem causing the hearing loss. More often than not a hearing aid is prescribed. Once brain atrophy has occurred, it is impossible to recover all functions even with treatment. So the best this is to prevent this atrophy in the first place.

Available help for hearing loss

At Advanced Hearing Centers and Advanced Ear Nose & Throat Associates, our team of professional audiologists is ready to help you prevent brain loss due to hearing loss. Doctor Stacy Pickelman and Doctor Lyn Rushton are part of this team. They are ready in our office and are equipped with the most advanced hearing testing kits and hearing aids to fit your taste and lifestyle.
Book an appointment today for hearing test – before it’s too late. Here, contact us now.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)

Lin FR, Albert M. Hearing Loss and Dementia – Who’s Listening? Aging & mental health. 2014;18(6):671-673. doi:10.1080/13607863.2014.915924.