Almost Every Mature Adult Worries About This One Thing

Speak up. You're mumbling.

Almost every mature adult is afraid of this one thing. Getting dementia as they age. But they often forget to regularly check for hearing loss. The risk of developing dementia is strongly linked to hearing loss.

Studies show that older adults with hearing loss had 2-5 times higher risk of developing dementia. The worse the loss, the higher the likelihood.

  • People with mild (25-decibel) hearing loss are nearly twice as likely to develop dementia.
  • People with even moderate hearing loss are three times as likely to develop dementia
  • People with a severe loss are five times as likely to develop dementia
  • For every 10-decibel of hearing loss, raises the risk for dementia by 20%.

One long-range study conducted from 2001-2007 included nearly 2,000 adults. Ages of participants ranged between 75-84.


Researchers found that hearing-impaired participants:

  • lost cognitive abilities up to 40% more quickly than others,
  • abstract thinking, problem solving, and memory retention were impacted negatively,
  • participants with hearing loss developed cognitive issues about three years sooner than those without.

Why does hearing loss lead to dementia?

Researchers suspect the following reasons:

Brain shrinkage:

Studies suggest that hearing loss causes brain shrinkage. When the “hearing” section of the brain grows inactive, there’s tissue loss. And the brain structure changes. The brains of people with hearing loss shrink—or atrophy—more quickly.

Brain overload

The strain of decoding sounds may overwhelm the brain.

Being hard of hearing uses a great deal of concentration. It takes mental energy to follow a conversation. Consequently, hearing impaired older adults have less mental energy for remembering simple things. Short term memory suffers. They may begin to forget appointments or who and when someone visited.

Social isolation:

 Hearing loss exacerbates social isolation. And we know that isolation is a significant factor for developing dementia.

Having a conversation with someone who can’t hear gets frustrating – for both parties. The elder may withdraw because it’s too hard and they hate repeatedly asking, “What?”.

And friends or family give up trying to communicate. Shouting, speaking slowly, and repeating yourself gets tiresome.

Older adults who used to go to church or play cards with friends will stop going. Also, driving with hearing loss is dangerous.

Depression

Hearing loss coupled with isolation increases symptoms of depression. Signs of depression include passivity, negativism, disorientation, anxiety, feelings of helplessness. Some people turn to alcohol or drugs, leading to more depression.

What other risks are associated with hearing loss?

Falls: 

Our hearing is important for balance. One study that found that even mild hearing loss makes you three times more likely to fall.

Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury. They’re the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. Every 19 minutes an older adult will die from a fall.

Heart Health: 

Research suggests a strong link between our cardiovascular and hearing health. Raymond Hull, Ph.D., says, “Our entire auditory system, especially the blood vessels of the inner ear, needs an oxygen-rich nutrient supply. If it doesn’t get it due to cardiovascular health problems, then hearing can be affected.” [Read more]

Since cardiovascular disease restricts needed oxygen, it impacts the severity of hearing loss. The hearing-impaired older adult finds it difficult to understand what was said. And then make sense of what they hear.

A 2014 study found that people with hardening of the arteries had significantly more hearing loss. This suggests that hearing loss may be an early sign of cardiovascular disease.

Diabetes: 

The National Institutes of Health found that hearing loss is twice as common among people with diabetes compared with non-diabetics.

The rate of hearing loss is 30% higher for adults considered pre-diabetic. High blood sugar levels may damage nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear. This can lead to hearing loss.

When should you get your hearing tested?

Many people with mild hearing loss don’t even realize it. So establish a baseline by getting tested when you turn 50. Based on the results, you may want to get regular hearing check-ups.

Start here. You can start with an online hearing test—it’s a fast, easy way to learn about your hearing. Beltone, a manufacturer of hearing aides, provides one here: Online Hearing Test

 

What should you do if you suspect hearing loss is an issue for you or an elderly loved one?

  • Get a comprehensive hearing assessment
  • Forget your pride. Get hearing aids.
  • Sign up for aural rehabilitation.

Does Medicare cover hearing aides?

No. Medicare does not cover the costs for hearing aids or exams for fitting hearing aids. You pay 100% for hearing aids and exams.

Some Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C) offer extra benefits that Original Medicare doesn't cover - like vision, hearing, or dental.

However, Medicare does cover cochlear implants. But you must meet the criteria and be profoundly deaf. Most people with hearing loss don’t meet the criteria. Also, getting implants has its own downsides.

Veterans and Hearing Aids

If you suspect hearing loss, make an appointment with an audiologist. Your VA Benefits will cover the cost.  Audiologists are part of your VA Health Care team.

You’ll get a diagnosis and treatment plan for your level of hearing impairment. If you meet the threshold for significant hearing loss, aids are provided. The hearing aids are usually at no charge to the veteran or significantly discounted.

The Veterans Health Administration has a contract with some of the leading hearing aid manufacturers. You can get good quality and up-to-date hearing aide technology.

In Summary

Regardless of age, hearing loss impacts your overall well-being. You’re more likely to suffer isolation, depression, poor health, and cognition.

Older adults are especially affected. They run a higher risk of developing dementia, having more falls, and developing other chronic conditions if hearing loss goes untreated.

Avoid the negative effects of hearing loss – detect it and treat it.

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