It’s no secret that, as we get older, we are much more susceptible to various health issues. This is especially true when it comes to the loss of hearing and cognitive functions, with around 40% of people over 50 in the UK suffering from some form of hearing loss. And it can often be confusing trying to work out exactly what you’re suffering with as many conditions can present similar symptoms. Also, there is a clear connection between hearing loss and dementia and both have an impact on the other. But how are they linked, and why?

The connection between hearing loss and dementia

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.

Living with hearing loss and dementia

Can hearing aids help to prevent dementia?

There is plenty of research to highlight that hearing aids can do much more than simply help you to hear better. This is because the effects of hearing loss aren't isolated to our ears alone. Instead, living with hearing loss can, as we’ve already mentioned, have a huge impact on your daily life, and it’s common for those with hearing loss to withdraw from social situations and activities, which can lead to loneliness and feelings of isolation.

A 2019 study that looked into the first three years after getting a first hearing aid found that those without hearing aids were much more likely to have poorer overall health and be less likely to regularly leave home when compared to those who did wear hearing aids. 

However, it’s important to remember that, while your hearing aids will not solve the underlying cause of your hearing loss, they can help to delay the onset of symptoms. This is because, as hearing aids are designed for wearers to more clearly hear, less strain is placed on the brain, leaving you with more energy to function and fight any degeneration or decline. Hearing aids, therefore, help to keep those suffering from hearing loss connected with loved ones, friends and the outside world.

If you’re concerned about your hearing, make an appointment at your nearest Boots Hearingcare store now to find out how our experienced team can help.