It can cause social isolation, depression, even anxiety, hearing loss is a common problem. If left untreated, doctors say it can also lead to dementia.
“There are a lot of studies showing that the two conditions occur together. Patients who have hearing loss are much more likely to have dementia,” said Dr. Justin Casey, an ear, nose and throat physician on the medical staff of Lee Health.
But the direct link is unclear. “There are several possibilities. One is that hearing loss causes dementia. One could be that dementia causes hearing loss. The third possibility could be that the two conditions commonly occur together and there’s something causing them,” said Dr. Casey.
Studies show by the age of 65 one in three people have hearing loss. Many patients try lip reading, or avoiding loud environments before eventually isolating themselves. “They are using all of their cognitive resources just to talk to you, therefore they have less brain power or less cognitive resources available for other things and that’s one of the theories of how hearing loss can lead to dementia,” said Dr. Casey.
Effortful listening over a long period of time can actually cause changes in the brain. “In patients with dementia, hearing aids have been found to improve behavioral symptoms, such as anxiety, aggression, and hallucinations. It also improves quality of life,” said Dr. Casey.
If family members notice a relative who is not engaging in conversation, is lip reading, or struggles to hear, it’s important to schedule a hearing test. “It certainly begins with an audiogram and that gives us a lot of clues of what type of hearing loss it is. Is it a sensory neural hearing loss, associated with the nerve, the hearing nerve? Is it a conductive hearing loss? Something that we can usually treat surgically? Or is it both,” said Dr. Casey.
Questions only a hearing test can answer and help treat. The longer the problem goes untreated, the harder it is to correct, and the more risk a patient has for developing dementia.
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