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How Hearing Loss Is a Major Contributor to Dementia

Photo: Courtesy of Sami Boudjelti

Earlier this year, Pfizer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, abandoned its research on dementia after losing billions of dollars.  With no cure, prevention is key. Many studies, including the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, report that up to about a third of dementia is preventable. And the number one modifiable lifestyle change one could make is the treatment of hearing loss.    

A medical study from Johns Hopkins demonstrated that untreated hearing loss increases the risk of developing dementia by 200% to 500%. Dr. Frank Lin and his team at Johns Hopkins Medical Center found three primary effects of hearing loss that can contribute directly to your risk of dementia:

1. Social isolation

Withdrawal from social situations is common in individuals with hearing loss. Keeping your brain mentally fit – with social interactions, communication, reading, and playing games – is a recipe for a long, healthy life!

2. Cerebral atrophy

Multiple scientific studies have demonstrated that hearing impairment is associated with accelerated brain atrophy, which is a hallmark feature of dementia. As the auditory system ages, we lose sensory cells in our ears. Each cell has the potential to make connections with millions of cells throughout the brain affecting hearing, speech, memory, and beyond. Therefore, hearing loss equals brain function loss.

3. Cognitive overload (or working your brain too hard)

With hearing loss, your brain is constantly on overload. The extra time it takes you to follow what is being said in a conversation can really add up, and this can harm your brain.

There is hope, however. According to a recent evidence from Columbia University, today’s leading treatment options for restoring hearing can help to slow down or prevent the development of dementia.

Dr. Doraiswamy, a neuropsychologist from Duke University said it best: “The benefits of correcting hearing loss on cognition are twice as large as the benefits from any cognitive-enhancing drugs now on the market. It should be the first thing we focus on.”

Hearing well is the number one step most of us can take in the battle against dementia.

Amy Sapodin, Clinical Audiologist, [email protected]

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