Dementia And Hearing Loss

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Woman discussing dementia and hearing loss with her doctor 

Dementia and hearing loss — are they related? Several recent studies have provided some interesting data linking cognitive problems to hearing loss. The first study found that people with mild hearing loss were two times more likely to develop dementia than those with normal hearing. Moderate hearing loss increased the risk to three times, while subjects with severe hearing loss were at a five times great risk of dementia. Similarly, subjects with hearing loss were approximately two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease. (Lin FR, Metter EJ, O’Brien RJ, Resnick SM, Zonderman AB, Ferrucci L. Hearing loss and incident dementia. Arch Neurol. 2011;68(2):214-220)

A second study by the same author found that a 25 decibel hearing loss was the cognitive equivalent of seven years of aging. (Lin FR, Ferrucci L, Metter EJ, An Y, Zonderman AB, Resnick SM. Hearing loss and cognition in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging.Neuropsychology. 2011;25(6):763-770)

In a recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) article, Dr. Lin discussed these studies and explained the urgent need for more research on the effects of hearing loss. He also emphasized that hearing loss needed to be considered more diligently by physicians that treat aging adults. He explains, “Future research initiatives for ARHL need to address fundamental questions pertaining to hearing loss and public health that remain unanswered: what are the consequences of untreated hearing loss in older adults, how can effective hearing rehabilitative interventions be delivered in the community, and how does treating hearing loss affect outcomes critical to older adults and society?”

Until we know more, hearing assessment and treatment is highly advisable. Untreated hearing loss is more than just a social inconvenience, it can affect overall health.