By: Dr. Arthur Zinaman
Read this next line carefully: hearing loss has been linked to decreased mental health, specifically dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This new information indicates that better hearing, possibly achieved with hearing aids, may actually help your body stave off debilating brain disease.
Whether hearing loss is a symptom of dementia or a risk factor for dementia requires further research. According to Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging, the normal human brain becomes smaller with age. This shrinkage appears to occur much faster in older adults who exhibit hearing loss. These findings add to an existing list of health issues associated with hearing loss. These include increased risk of dementia, poor balance, risk of falls, Alzheimer’s, diminished physical-fitness, and overall decreased mental wellness.
Previously published studies have suggested that hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia and/or Alzheimer’s. According to Dr. Frank Lin, patients have been evaluated over time, to determine the link between hearing loss and brain disease. Dr. Lin’s goal was to determine, unquestionably, if hearing loss is associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Lin and his colleagues used information from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging to compare brain changes over time between adults with normal hearing and adults with hearing loss. The focus of The Baltimore Study is to track various health factors in men and women due to getting older. Hearing loss was one of the factors involved.
I won’t bore you with all the minute details of this study but read this; overall, the scientists report, “those with impaired hearing, have lost more than an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue each year compared with those with normal hearing.” Additionally, the researchers state that “those with impaired hearing also had significantly more shrinkage in particular regions, including brain structures responsible for processing sound and speech.”
To recap, two scientific studies show that individuals with hearing loss have smaller brains and decreased mental function than those with normal hearing. The importance of good hearing cannot be overstated. We now feel confident to report, that improved hearing may increase the ability to ward off brain crippling diseases. Folks, that is a huge and consequence-filled revelation.
When you look at the statistics of hearing loss in the U.S., only a small percentage of people take advantage of hearing aids. This is unfortunate for many health related reasons, but for the purpose of this blog, hearing loss and dementia are more common as you get older and the latest research shows that’s no coincidence. Hearing loss and dementia are linked. Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that people with hearing loss are certain to have dementia; but simply that the odds are higher.
The question you may now ask is how is hearing loss and mental decline linked? According to the research, I paraphrased the following information:
–Patients with hearing loss may feel isolated because it’s difficult to join in conversations or be social with others when you can’t hear. Additionally, research has shown a link between feeling lonely or isolated and dementia, consequently, hearing loss may make mental decline happen faster than it would otherwise.
-If you do not hear well, your brain must work harder to process sound, and that may reduce available mental resources that could be used for other important activities.
– More simply and to the point is if your ears can no longer hear many sounds, your hearing nerves will send fewer signals to your brain and as a result, the brain declines.
You may ask, can using hearing aids protect you from dementia? Further research is now being done where scientists will determine if hearing aids can reduce risk or prevent dementia. However, pending the results of this study, there’s absolutely no downside to using hearing aids. Hearing aid intervention can make a huge difference in improving the quality of your health. Essentially, if you’re an older adult who has been diagnosed with hearing loss, it now makes more sense than ever to treat this dysfunction.
To summarize, we are now aware that hearing loss has an effect on the health of the entire body. This is especially seen in matters of brain disease. We believe that these health issues may be preventable or diminished by the use of hearing aids.
At Hearing Partners, we are up-to-date on the latest industry innovations, research, and breakthroughs. We are constantly educating ourselves to be current with new technologies and provide the best in hearing healthcare to our valued patients.
Thank you so much for tuning in for another edition of Dr. Zinaman’s audiological insights. Good thing you didn’t miss this month’s blog because it contained important information that applies to patients and caregivers.
Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia
Frank R. Lin, MD PhD,1 E. Jeffrey Metter, MD,2 Richard J. O’Brien, MD PhD,3 Susan M. Resnick, PhD,4Alan B. Zonderman, PhD,4 and Luigi Ferrucci, MD PhD2
Arch Neurol. 2011 Feb; 68(2): 214–220.
Details Consequences of Age-related Hearing Loss and Future Avenues
Dr Frank Lin
The Hearing Review.
Published on November 11, 2014
John Hopkins Medicine.
Hearing Loss and Dementia Linked in Study
Release Date: February 14, 2011
Lin FR et al. Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(4):293-299. doi:10.1001/
Jama Intern Med.2013.1868.
Hearing technology and cognition.
Kalluri, S., & Humes, L.E. (2012).
American Journal of Audiology, 21(2), 338-343.