Last Updated: April 19, 2024

Does hearing loss increase the risk of dementia?

senior hearing loss dementia risk

Recent studies have found that people who develop hearing loss during mid-life (ages 40-65) have a greater risk of developing dementia later on. In fact, research shows that hearing loss is one of the top risk factors for dementia.

A study by Johns Hopkins tracked 639 adults for 12 years, and found the following:

  • Mild hearing loss doubled the risk of dementia. 
  • Moderate hearing loss tripled the risk of dementia.
  • Severe hearing loss made people 5 times more likely to develop dementia.

Researchers estimate that hearing loss is responsible for 8% of dementia cases. In other words, hearing loss may be the cause of 800,000 of the nearly 10 million new diagnoses of dementia each year. 

With all the latest research, it is safe to conclude that there is a significant link between hearing loss and dementia. Explore why this is the case, and what you can do to prevent it.

Types of age-related hearing loss

Age-related hearing loss is common among seniors, affecting two-thirds of Americans over 70.  In fact, according to the Florida Department of Health, 3-4 million people in Florida have significant hearing loss. 

Difficulties with hearing normally start gradually and can be challenging to pinpoint.

  • Peripheral hearing loss: The reduced ability of the ears to detect sound. This type of hearing loss does increase the risk of developing dementia.
  • Central hearing loss: Difficulty processing sounds in the brain. This type of hearing loss cannot be corrected with hearing aids. It can also be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s, as the disease affects the sound processing parts of the brain.

Hearing loss has been shown to increase the risk of falls and depression in seniors. In addition, over the span of 10 years, people with hearing loss have a 47% increased rate of hospitalization.

The link between hearing loss and dementia

senior hearing test to prevent dementia

While the research is ongoing, scientists have concluded numerous possible reasons for why hearing loss can increase the risk of developing dementia: 

Brain atrophy

While brains naturally shrink as we age, brain scans have shown that hearing loss can cause a faster rate of brain atrophy, or the shrinking of the brain. Cleveland Clinic explains that there is a connection between brain atrophy and dementia, as dementia causes extreme brain atrophy.

Brain strain

Hearing loss may cause the parts of the brain that understand sound and speech to work harder. This extra effort may cause strain on the brain at the expense of other memory and thinking skills, leading to an increased risk of dementia. 

Social isolation

Oftentimes people with significant hearing loss will end up being more socially isolated than others. That is because it can be difficult to effectively communicate with other people when hearing loss gets in the way.  

One of the known factors that leads to dementia is lack of socialization. Being socially engaged keeps the brain active, as conversing involves many different cognitive functions. When these brain functions are not being utilized, though, dementia is more likely to occur.

How to protect your hearing to reduce your dementia risk

how to prevent hearing loss and dementia risk

Taking preventative measures to protect your hearing is one way to reduce your risk of developing dementia. The following are some strategies recommended by medical professionals for preventing hearing loss:

Get your hearing checked

senior hearing test to prevent dementia risk

Treating hearing loss before its severity increases can lower one’s risk of developing dementia. Thus, getting regular hearing tests is crucial in order to stay on top of treatment – especially because some hearing loss may be essentially undetectable without a professional exam. 

Hearing tests check for hearing loss and determine the severity and type of hearing loss if it exists. General hearing tests can be conducted by your primary care physician. If they detect a problem, they might refer you to an audiologist or ENT. 

Most insurances cover hearing tests. This includes Medicare Part B, which covers diagnostic hearing and balance exams. Read more about what Medicare Part B covers in regard to hearing tests here.

It is suggested that adults ages 40-59 get their hearing tested every 1-3 years, and seniors get their hearing tested annually. You should also schedule a hearing exam if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness or balance issues
  • Ringing or whooshing sounds in ears (also known as tinnitus)
  • Head trauma (however, seeing a doctor should be the first priority)
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty detecting the direction sounds are coming from

Use hearing aids

hearing aid for seniors with dementia

While 27 million Americans ages 50 and older have hearing loss, only one in seven uses a hearing aid. However, there are numerous studies, including recent research from Johns Hopkins, suggesting that people who utilize hearing aids have a lower risk of developing dementia. Research has also found that the use of hearing aids is associated with less decline in memory and thinking skills.

Your audiologist or primary care physician can recommend the best type of hearing aid for you, whether that be general hearing aids, which come in different styles, or cochlear implants. Most hearing aids are covered by health insurance. Some hearing aids are also available over-the-counter and do not require a visit to a physician first (though consulting with a medical professional is always recommended).

Avoid loud noises for long periods of time

loud nosies causing hearing loss and dementia for seniors

Attending many noisy concerts, being around loud machinery, and listening to the tv or headphones too loudly are just some situations that can lead to hearing loss. 

If you need to be around loud noises, stay as far away from the loudest source of the noise as possible, and take breaks from the noise every 15 minutes.

When listening to music, headphones, the tv, or radio, turn the volume DOWN. Your ears (and neighbors) will thank you.

Use proper ear protection

hearing protective ear muffs for seniors

When avoiding the source of loud noises is not an option, wear proper ear protection like protective earmuffs and earplugs (just be sure to clean them between each use). 

Some situations in which you should wear hearing protectors like earplugs or earmuffs include:

  • Car races, fireworks displays, loud concerts, sports events
  • Motorcycle, snowmobile, dirt bike, ATV, or tractor riding
  • Band and orchestra rehearsals and performances
  • Workplaces like warehouses, farms, landscaping, industrial settings
  • Sports involving shooting
  • Using power tools  

Conclusion

Scientists have concluded that there is a link between hearing loss and increased dementia risk.

Just because someone has hearing loss does not necessarily mean they will develop dementia. But, it is important for people to be aware of the connection between hearing loss and dementia, and to take proactive measures before their hearing loss worsens in order to lower their risk.

Dementia care for seniors in Florida

dementia and memory care nurse

If your loved one is experiencing symptoms of dementia, it might be wise to consider assisted living or memory care in order for them to remain safe and secure.

At Florida Senior Consulting, all of our staff members are Certified Dementia Practitioners. 

Our trusted senior advisors will guide you through the process of finding the best assisted living or memory care in Florida so your loved one can live a safe, vibrant life, and you can get the peace of mind you need.

To discuss the next best step for your senior loved one, call us today at (800) 969-7176 or visit FloridaSeniorConsulting.com.

Contact Florida Senior Consulting

(800) 969-7176