Book an appointment
Book a free appointment with one of our experts at a store near you.
What happens in a hearing test?
Understand what happens at your free hearing test with Boots Hearingcare

The Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia 

Delve into the complex connection between hearing loss and dementia, two distinct yet intertwined health challenges. Recent studies, highlighted in a June 2023 report, reveal a potential association between untreated hearing loss and a heightened risk of dementia. With millions globally impacted by hearing loss affecting communication, and dementia involving cognitive decline, understanding these conditions individually is paramount. 

Updated: 16th February 2024

Excitingly, emerging insights suggest that addressing even moderate hearing loss, possibly through hearing aids, might play a role to reduce dementia risk. This emphasises the proactive approach needed for overall well-being. Embark on a journey to discover how caring for your hearing health can contribute to a healthier and more vibrant future.

What is dementia?

While occasional memory lapses can be attributed to factors like stress or fatigue, persistent forgetfulness, especially in those over 65, warrants attention. If memory loss begins to impact daily life, it's crucial to consult with a GP about potential early signs of dementia.

Dementia goes beyond memory issues; it can influence speech, thought processes, emotions, and behaviour. Importantly, dementia is not an inevitable aspect of ageing.

Dementia is a syndrome characterised by an ongoing decline in brain function, with various causes and types. It's common for individuals to confuse dementia with Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's is a specific type of dementia, along with vascular dementia, constituting the majority of cases. Seeking guidance from a healthcare professional can provide clarity and support for individuals and their families.

Understanding dementia

Dementia is a broad term encompassing various disorders characterised by cognitive decline affecting daily functioning.

Alzheimer's Disease: the most common form, marked by memory loss and cognitive decline.

Vascular Dementia: results from reduced blood flow to the brain, affecting thinking skills.

Lewy Body Dementia: involves abnormal protein deposits, leading to hallucinations and alertness fluctuations.

Frontotemporal Dementia: affects behaviour and personality due to damaged nerve cells.

Risk factors for Dementia

Dementia risk factors encompass a range of influences, and understanding them is vital for proactive health management:

Genetic factors: while not everyone with a family history develops dementia, certain genes can increase susceptibility. Genetic testing and counselling may offer insights into individual risk.

Lifestyle factors: unhealthy habits, such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking, contribute to vascular conditions that heighten dementia risk. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity and a balanced diet, can mitigate these risks.

Environmental factors: prolonged exposure to environmental pollutants and toxins may play a role in dementia development. Minimising exposure to such elements, like maintaining air quality in living spaces, can contribute to overall brain health.

Can hearing loss cause dementia?

Is hearing loss a risk factor?

Recent studies from CNET, from June 2023, highlighted a concerning link between untreated hearing loss and an increased risk of dementia. It's crucial to note that hearing loss alone doesn't mean dementia is inevitable, but evidence suggests a significant association. External studies highlight that addressing hearing issues is crucial for preventing decline in cognitive health.

Various theories explore the reasons behind this connection. Social isolation, often linked to untreated hearing loss, may contribute to cognitive decline. Struggling to hear increases the cognitive load on the brain, and there are indications that untreated hearing loss might lead to brain atrophy over time. As we unravel the intricate relationship between hearing health and cognitive function, early intervention, including the use of hearing aids, emerges as a potential strategy to reduce the risk of dementia associated with hearing loss.

Shared risk factors between hearing loss and dementia

Hearing loss and dementia share common risk factors, underscoring the intricate connection between these conditions. Age is a key factor; as we age, the likelihood of experiencing both dementia and age related hearing loss increases. Cardiovascular health is pivotal for both, with concerns like hypertension impacting hearing function and cognitive health. Social isolation, a recognised dementia risk, raises questions about how hearing problems might indirectly develop dementia by challenging social connections.

Genetics further contribute to shared risk. Specific genetic factors can make individuals susceptible to both hearing issues and dementia. Recognising these overlapping risk factors highlights the importance of holistic health practices that champion cardiovascular well-being, support healthy ageing, and include regular monitoring for both hearing and cognitive health. Proactively managing these shared risk factors becomes crucial for preserving overall well-being.

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 impairment 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 from 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.

Impact of hearing loss on cognitive health

Hearing loss can significantly impact cognitive health, leading to various changes in brain function and mental well-being. In challenging auditory environments, individuals with hearing loss may experience increased cognitive load, as the brain works harder to process and understand sounds. Over time, this extra cognitive effort can contribute to mental fatigue and decrease overall cognitive function.

Social withdrawal is a common consequence of untreated hearing loss, as communication becomes challenging and individuals may opt to avoid social situations. This isolation, in turn, has negative effects on mental health, potentially leading to feelings of loneliness and depression.

Early detection and treatment of hearing loss play a crucial role in mitigating cognitive decline. By addressing hearing issues promptly, individuals can maintain active social engagement, reduce cognitive load, and potentially lessen the risk of associated mental health challenges. Regular hearing check-ups and seeking professional guidance can contribute to overall cognitive well-being.

Addressing the issue

Early detection and treatment

Protecting against dementia involves a multifaceted approach encompassing lifestyle choices, health management, and environmental factors. Early detection plays a pivotal role in this strategy. Regular health check-ups, including routine hearing assessments, can contribute to identifying potential risk factors and addressing them promptly.

For optimal cognitive health, adopting a healthy lifestyle is crucial. This includes maintaining cardiovascular health through regular exercise, managing stress, and following a balanced diet. Additionally, staying socially engaged and mentally active contributes positively to cognitive function.

Hearing checks, in particular, are essential components of early detection. Addressing the early symptoms of hearing loss can alleviate the cognitive load on the brain, reducing the risk of associated cognitive decline. Frequent check-ups enable timely interventions, ensuring that individuals receive the necessary support to preserve their cognitive well-being. By taking proactive steps and embracing a holistic approach, individuals can enhance their chances of maintaining cognitive health as they age.

Protective measures 

While there's no foolproof way to prevent dementia, adopting certain lifestyle measures has shown promise in reducing the risk. Regular exercise has been linked to cognitive benefits, promoting overall brain health. A balanced and nutritious diet, rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, supports cognitive function.

Quality sleep is crucial for brain rejuvenation and consolidation of memories, contributing to cognitive well-being. Ensuring sufficient rest is a fundamental aspect of maintaining cognitive health.

Moreover, protecting your hearing is another proactive step. Recent studies have suggested a connection between hearing loss and dementia. By using hearing protection in noisy environments and addressing hearing issues promptly, individuals may reduce the cognitive load on their brains, potentially lowering the risk of associated cognitive decline.

Incorporating these protective measures into daily life not only enhances overall well-being but also contributes to fostering a healthier and more resilient cognitive state as we age.

Hearing aids and dementia

Hearing aids play a crucial role in mitigating the effects of dementia, serving as one of the most substantial protective factors against cognitive decline. While hearing aids can't guarantee the prevention of dementia, they are instrumental in sustaining a normal lifestyle and reducing its impact.

Audiologist experts affirm the positive correlation between hearing aid use and cognitive health. One of our audiologists emphasises, "Hearing aids not only improve auditory experiences but can significantly contribute to cognitive well-being, potentially minimizing the effects of dementia."

Regular hearing tests are key to early symptom identification of hearing impairment, allowing for timely intervention with hearing aids. By addressing hearing issues promptly, individuals can proactively safeguard their cognitive health and enjoy a fuller, more engaged life.

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 severe 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, hearing aids are designed for treating hearing loss, and with wearers able to hear more clearly, less strain is placed on the brain, leaving you with more energy to function and fight any degeneration or decline. Hearing aids reduce suffering from hearing loss connected with loved ones, friends and the outside world.

emma jarvis

Written By:
Emma Jarvis

Digital Optimisation Lead

Author Image

Medically Reviewed By:
Fazeel Talib

Audiology Expert