The Link between Dementia and Hearing Loss

As our life expectancy is increasing we need to hear well for longer, but as we age so do our ears and hearing. By 2035, it is estimated one in five of us in the UK will suffer from hearing loss, but there is new very strong evidence that poor hearing is linked to dementia and additionally crucially patients are being diagnosed with dementia when they might be suffering from hearing loss.

Duncan Collet-Fenson, Head Audiologist & MD of Aston Hearing unravels the link between hearing and dementia and explains what we can do to help both our hearing and protect ourselves from dementia.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HEARING LOSS AND DEMENTIA

  1. Hearing loss is thought to increase the risk of dementia – New research shows that people who wear hearing aids for age-related hearing problems maintain better cognitive function and slow down the ageing of their brain. www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_725112_en.html. Hearing is vital mental stimulation therefore loss of hearing can influence our brains making those over 65 more vulnerable to memory and thinking decline. Hearing loss is thought to increase the risk of dementia by up to five times.
  1. Wearing a hearing aid may mitigate that risk – The recent research shows that as hearing loss is an important risk factor for dementia wearing a hearing aid if you have age-related hearing loss may mitigate that risk. Those who wore hearing aids for age-related hearing problems had brains that performed on average as if they were eight years younger.
  2. Social isolation is a risk to dementia – There are additional proven links between hearing loss in middle age and a raised risk of dementia in later life, possibly because deafness can lead to social isolation, a dementia-risk factor.
  1. Symptoms confusion – Many symptoms of hearing loss are also being misinterpreted as early signs of dementia such as memory loss, repetition, disorganisation, a feeling of vacancy, loss of confidence and concentration, trouble socialising and making poor judgements. All of these symptoms could be either as a result of hearing loss or dementia. Correct diagnosis is vital.
  1. Heart health affects both dementia and hearing because of the importance of good blood flow. Good circulation helps maintain good hearing whilst inadequate blood flow and trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear can contribute to hearing loss. Similarly, research shows that problems in the heart and vascular system including blood vessels that supply blood to the brain can contribute to the development of dementia.
  1. At least 28 million pounds could be saved annually in England through properly managing hearing loss in those with dementia.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE NOT SURE IF IT IS HEARING LOSS OR DEMENTIA?

  1. Signs to look for – Whilst they share many symptoms, there are many early indications of dementia that can distinguish it from hearing loss. Memory loss, repetition, feelings of vacancy, loss of confidence and concentration, trouble with socialising and making poor judgements are all symptoms of dementia. Signs of hearing loss include earache, vertigo, unusual noises in ear, difficulty hearing on the phone, asking for repetition, struggling to concentrate in conversation or watching TV.
  1. See Your GP – By asking lots of questions and perhaps performing various basic tests, your GP could make an initial diagnosis to establish if there is hearing loss or if you or your loved one is suffering from dementia. If your GP suspects hearing loss, they will make a referral to an audiologist who will perform specialist tests to accurately assess your hearing ability.

IF IT IS HEARING LOSS

  1. Only around 40% of people who need hearing aids have them. Many more people could benefit from hearing aids than are currently doing so. We can only hope it won’t be long before attitudes start to change towards hearing technology.

  1. Hearing technology is now extraordinary. We now have the ability to seamlessly stream phone calls and music straight to our hearing aid and many of them are barely visible. Some even allow you to text, translate languages, monitor your activity and even measure your blood pressure!

  1. Check your hearing annually – Many of us avoid acknowledging anything to do with ageing. Shockingly, research has found that people generally wait 10 years before taking action against their hearing loss, but the sooner you seek help, the less impact hearing loss will have on your life. Having regular hearing checks, just as you would your sight, is vital. Well-managed hearing loss will help keep you young and can help protect you against dementia.
  1. Excessive wax build-up can be a major problem for effective hearing. Microsuction is the safest method of wax removal and is highly recommended over ear irrigation. It involves using a suction device to remove the wax within the ear canal and is generally the most comfortable procedure as the device avoids contact with the skin. It is also unnecessary for the client to use any oil beforehand to loosen the wax. Wax removal is often no longer carried out by GP’s on the NHS.
  1. Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL), also known as sudden deafness, is a serious medical condition and requires immediate care, so if you have a sudden loss of hearing seek medical advice immediately. It typically occurs in only one ear but can appear in both. Around 50% of people with SSHL recover within two weeks if they receive prompt treatment.
  1. Hearing loss – If struggling with hearing loss, hearing aids can limit the impact on you or your loved one’s life enabling you or them to live a normal day-to-day life.

To find out more visit https://astonhearing.co.uk/