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Hearing Loss Increases the Risk of Dementia


Hearing loss is a health-risk time bomb. Present in two thirds of older adults, the impacts of hearing loss go far beyond the struggle to hear, to communicate easily. Hearing loss is not just a nuisance that comes with aging.

As a result of research at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and other prominent medical schools and research centers around the world, we now know that hearing loss increases the risks of dementia.

“Hearing loss is the largest modifiable risk factor for developing dementia, exceeding that of smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and social isolation.”
—Jane Brody from the New York Times, December 30, 2019


How much does hearing loss increase your risk of dementia?

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Research at Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging indicates older Americans with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia than those who retain their hearing (Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, about 70% of all dementia cases). For example

  • People with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss had twofold, threefold, and fivefold increased risk of developing dementia.
  • In people 60 and older, more than 36.4% of the risk of dementia was accounted for by hearing loss.
  • For Alzheimer's disease, risk increases the following way: for every 10 decibels of hearing loss the additional risk increases by 20%. In other words, a mild loss of hearing has a significant impact on risk.
  • MRI evidence confirms that the brains of people with hearing loss atrophy faster than those with normal hearing.
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Why does hearing loss increase your risk of dementia?

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Your ears capture, process, and transmit auditory information to your brain for it to interpret. The result is the experience of hearing.

The increased risk of dementia from hearing loss begins when less auditory information reaches the brain.

Thanks to recent research, we now know that your brain needs a sufficient amount of ‘sound’ to function optimally. Healthy hearing achieves this. But with diminished hearing, an insufficient amount of auditory information reaches the brain.

It's true — hearing is sound for thinking.
It's true — hearing is sound for thinking.

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Hearing aids...risk-reduction technology

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If you have a loss of hearing, using hearing aids lowers your risk of dementia. Recent research suggests that wearing hearing aids could slow or actually reverse cognitive decline in adults who have a loss of hearing.
cognitive decline in adults who have a loss of

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Waiting doesn't work

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The status of your hearing reflects the health of your brain. If you are an adult over 50 years of age, schedule an annual hearing screening with an audiologist. A 15-minute hearing screening is an objective measure of your current hearing ability — not how well you think you can hear. Even if you do not suspect you have a hearing loss, it is wise to get one annually for two reasons.
it is wise to get one annually for two reasons.

Reason 1: Even a 10 decibel loss of hearing impairs cognition

At Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Justin S. Golub, MD, investigated whether a cognitive decline was present in people classified as having normal hearing but had some loss of hearing.

“In this study, Dr. Golub and the researchers demonstrated that the biggest drop in cognitive ability occurs even at the slightest level of hearing loss — a decline from zero (the sound level of a pin drop), to the “normal” level of 25 decibels.” —from interview with Dr. Golub in the New York Times.

The average age of the 6, 541 subjects was 59.4 years of age. Some were as young as 53.

The researchers found the association between hearing and impaired cognition present earlier in hearing loss than previously understood.

  • The association between hearing loss and impaired cognition was present across the entire spectrum of hearing ability after adjusting for demographics and cardiovascular disease.
  • Using the current clinical definition of hearing loss (≤25 decibels), decreased hearing was associated with diminished cognition in adults with normal hearing for all cognitive tests used in the study.
  • Researchers also measured clinically meaningful decreases in cognition at hearing losses of only 10 and 15 decibels (hearing losses in the range of 10-15 decibels is considered normal hearing).
cognitive decline in adults who have a loss of

Reason 2: Hearing loss creates permanent changes to brain structures

Researchers at Johns Hopkins discovered the brains of people with a loss of hearing atrophied faster than those with normal hearing. MRI evidence confirmed this finding. The study's lead, Dr. Frank Lin, advises treating hearing loss before structural changes to the brain occur.
these brain-structural changes take place.


Download your copy of the ebook, "Dementia and Hearing Loss"

This 14-page ebook captures the information presented on
this website and includes references.

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