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Loss Of Hearing May Lead To Loss Of Memory
For almost 30 years, studies have shown that hearing impairment, or loss, is related to dementia. Similar results are still seen in research today. In fact, one of the recent studies found that cognitive abilities declined about 30 to 40 times faster in older individuals with hearing loss than in those individuals with normal hearing. Scientists agree that untreated hearing loss is associated with an increased risk for developing dementia. However, they have many different theories as to how the two are related. Let’s explore two of the most common theories below.
Hearing loss means the brain must change the way it processes information
If the brain is constantly receiving fuzzy signals or distorted sounds due to hearing loss, it may have to work extra hard to decipher these messages and process these sounds. This may mean the brain has to divert resources away from other tasks such as thinking and memorizing. Similarly, the parts of the brain don’t work well when in isolation of one another. The parts of the brain used to process sound also have functions in processing memory and other sensory input. If the parts of the brain responsible for hearing begin to atrophy, or weaken over time, it may have a “domino effect” on other parts of the brain. Thus, other parts of the brain may begin to weaken over time, as well.
Hearing loss may lead to social isolation
Social situations are often loud and full of competing conversations and noises. Individuals with untreated hearing loss may find it difficult or frustrating to engage in conversations with others. So these situations may become less enjoyable as hearing difficulties progress. This can lead to social isolation and possibly depression, which in turn can cause an increased risk of dementia.
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So what to do about it?
First off, just because a person has hearing loss it does not mean that he/she is destined to have dementia. Some individuals may have hearing loss and never experience cognitive decline. Similarly, others will have normal hearing but develop dementia.
However, there are things you can do to protect your hearing and lower your risk of cognitive decline.
One important step is protecting your hearing. Noise is more harmful the louder it is and the longer you are exposed to it. If you are going to be near loud noise such as a concert or machinery, it is important to wear earplugs. Another way to protect your hearing is by not listening to music at a loud volume, particularly if using headphones or earbuds. A good rule of thumb is to never listen to your music at more than 60% volume and the person next to you should not be able to hear music coming from your headphones.
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Another easy thing you can do is get a hearing exam. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends that individuals get this done once every 10 years up until the age of 50. After age 50, it is recommended that individuals get a hearing exam every three years. Hearing loss often occurs very gradually, going undetected for years. Therefore, getting a hearing exam is crucial for early detection.
If you believe you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss, talk to your medical provider about it. You could save not only your hearing, but possibly your memory as well.