disease process in the area of the brain responsible for cognitive function.
Can it be treated?
Whether treating hearing loss would slow or stop the progression to dementia remains unclear.
“We cannot definitively say that yet,” Chern, who co-authored a 2021 review published in The Laryngoscope about research on the effectiveness of hearing aids for lowering dementia risk adds. There is some evidence hearing aids may protect people with hearing loss and mild cognitive impairment from further decline, he says. “But the data is mixed.”
Chern’s review article nonetheless concluded hearing aid use should be encouraged, because it can only help, not harm, those with hearing loss. The Lancet Commission report also encourages the use of hearing aids to lower dementia risk.
Part of the reason for the mixed results could be that so many potential pathways are involved.
“If you restore hearing, you are no longer listening under difficult conditions, so if that’s the problem, the dementia risk might be removed,” he says. But, if difficult listening is triggering the disease process responsible for dementia, “it could already be too late.”
Though researchers are still unclear why it happens or how to reduce it, they say there’s strong evidence of the link between hearing loss and dementia.
Longitudinal studies have shown “hearing loss comes first,” Chern shares. And others have concluded, “the greater the severity of hearing loss, the greater the risk of dementia.”
Hearing loss also can make it harder for people to socialize – and social isolation has been shown to raise the risk for dementia by roughly 50%.
Wearing a hearing aid can reduce social isolation, but people resist doing so because “there is a lot of perceived stigma. They think they will be seen as old or disabled,” Chern notes.
“But in reality, people are more likely to think you’re old if you can’t hear them.”
If you have noticed any changes in your hearing, it is important that you contact your doctor immediately so that you can learn about your options and prevent your condition from worsening.