Can hearing loss cause dementia?
While there’s no research to suggest that hearing loss can cause dementia, it’s true that the two are strongly linked. A number of studies have found that minor cognitive impairment and a decline in mental ability are much more common in people suffering from hearing loss, and that the worse their hearing problems are, the greater their chances of a decline.
Research from Johns Hopkins University into the effect of hearing loss on mental decline found that adults suffering from a mild hearing loss of 25dB have a much higher risk of developing dementia - nearly twice as likely than those with normal hearing function. Similarly, those with moderate to severe hearing loss are up to five times more likely to suffer from the condition.
While hearing loss is unlikely to directly cause dementia, if you are suffering there are several factors that can contribute towards cognitive decline:
Social isolation: the impact of social isolation on mental health has been widely researched and, for those with hearing loss, it’s common to feel isolated and alone, as it’s much harder to join in with conversations and maintain social connections.
Cognitive fatigue: If your hearing abilities have decreased, your brain has to work much harder to process any sounds and information, which takes up a lot of mental energy, leaving less for other functions or crucial activities.
- Changes to brain functionality: if you are suffering from hearing loss, the parts of your brain that are responsible for auditory responses become less active, which can cause a change, or decline, in the way your brain works.
How can you tell the difference between hearing loss and dementia?
It’s very common to assume that you or someone you love might be suffering from dementia if you’re struggling with your hearing or having trouble understanding conversations or speech. This is because cognitive decline and hearing loss share a number of the same symptoms such as trouble thinking and problem solving, along with difficulty understanding conversations. But just because you’re suffering with some similar indicators, it doesn't mean you are developing dementia.
However, it is important to note that if you do have an already confirmed hearing loss, you are at a higher risk of developing dementia. So if you’re concerned about your hearing, it’s important to get checked by a hearing care specialist as soon as possible.