Treating Hearing Loss to Lower the Risk of Dementia in Seniors

Are hearing loss and dementia connected? Research suggests that they are, and treating hearing loss has the potential to reduce the risk associated with dementia. Are the seniors in your RAL home displaying signs of hearing loss?

Did you know that 1 in 4 seniors is affected by hearing loss, and that you can reduce dementia risk by treating hearing impairment? Hearing loss has no recognizable early symptom.

Seniors may appear disinterested, a little unconfused, or even depressed. Have you ever considered it could be hearing loss? Recent data suggests that nearly 25% of seniors are affected by hearing loss.

Some caregivers have thought residents were developing signs of dementia, only to find it was hearing loss. After arthritis and heart disease, hearing loss is the most common disability affecting seniors. Approximately 50% of seniors 75 years of age and older have a hearing disability.

While there is much help and support given by Southern Alabama disability attorneys for seniors suffering from hearing loss, only 20% of seniors affected by hearing loss seek help.

It’s important to examine why hearing loss is a serious issue and also a contributing factor for dementia.

UNTREATED HEARING LOSS IS LINKED TO SERIOUS HEALTH CONDITIONS

Believe it or not, the data is clear. Recent studies have proven links between hearing loss, cognitive decline, and dementia. The physiological implications are quite complicated, but the results are clear.

As simple as it may seem, a hearing amplifier or hearing aid can have a positive influence on healthy brain activity, which decreases the risk of developing dementia.

Cognitive abilities such as memory and concentration decline 35% faster in people with hearing impairment.
Hearing loss also increases:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Bad moods
  • Hospitalization
  • Fall risks

The compounded risks associated with hearing loss are too great to ignore viable treatment, even for residents in assisted living homes.

3 REASONS WHY HEARING LOSS COULD INCREASE DEMENTIA RISK

Three prevailing theories explain why hearing loss increases the risk of cognitive decline and dementia in seniors.

  1. Cognitive Load

The brain can become overwhelmed with assessing and attempting to codify sounds that are difficult to hear. Excessive processing draws neurological activity from other functions such as memory and thinking.

Why is this a problem?

When a senior, who has heard normally all of their life, now expends extensive brainpower to do what came easily for the majority of his/her life, the brain fatigue alone presents challenges with other brain functions. Therefore, address hearing loss as soon as it is noted, in order to preserve your beloved senior’s quality of life.

  1. Brain Atrophy

Brain atrophy is another theory related to hearing impairment. What is it? Brain atrophy is the death of brain cells and neural pathways.

It is not an abrupt condition, but a slow insidious one. Hearing impairment with its fatiguing effects contributes to increased rates of atrophy in certain areas of the brain. Some of the particular areas affected by hearing loss are responsible for memory and senses.

Therefore, hearing loss, especially late-onset, is a risk factor for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s Disease.

  1. Social Isolation

Withdrawal from society is often a defense mechanism in seniors who are affected by hearing loss.
They cannot engage with family and friends as they once did, and the embarrassment of their challenge is more than many can bear. Therefore, they shut themselves away.

They stay at home or in their room more than in the recent past. It’s just too difficult to interact and the incredible amount of strain it takes them to converse normally is tiresome.

Why is this a problem? While one might think the less a senior attempts to hear the better for their brain function, the opposite is true.

Social isolation is directly linked to increased cognitive deficits. People need to interact and exchange ideas in order to function properly. Isolation prevents this from happening. Therefore, addressing hearing loss as soon as possible with good medical care will offset this possibility.

As mentioned earlier, hearing loss is the third most common disability in seniors after arthritis and heart disease.

  • Hearing loss is prevalent in one-third of people over age 65 and in two-thirds of those over age 70
  • The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care state it is one of the top potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia.
  • The challenge with preventing hearing loss is cost. Quality hearing aids are expensive.

WHAT THE EVIDENCE SAYS

Information is power. Amongst seniors struggling with hearing loss, such data is vital.

Here are a few studies with a brief synopsis to help you understand the necessity to treat hearing loss in your seniors immediately.

The Rancho Bernardo Study of Healthy Aging with 1,000 participants found:

  • Hearing impairment increased the pace of age-related declines in global and executive cognitive function.
  • Individuals who had higher education seem to have a reduced cognitive decline versus those who did not have a comparable education.
  • Education alone had no effect on the declines associated with moderate to severe hearing loss.

Education may offer seniors some protection against brain atrophy because of the brain’s resiliency. However, it is not a fireproof wall. The issue requires attention.

A Brain-imaging study found the following:

  • Areas of the brain not normally involved in language processing become activated in response to speech in people with hearing loss.

Another Brain-imaging study found in 126 people followed for a 10-year period:

  • Hearing impairment had accelerated rates of brain atrophy, including in areas involved in memory.

These studies and a plethora of others suggest that it is absolutely necessary to treat hearing loss in seniors immediately. Their quality of life is at risk of deteriorating and their independence is compromised, and there are things that can be done to slow and prevent these outcomes.

The jury is still out on the reversal of cognitive deficits incurred by hearing loss left untreated. Therefore, it is best to treat this condition as soon as possible.

DOING WHAT’S BEST FOR QUALITY SENIOR CARE

The Residential Assisted Living National Association is here to provide information, resources and support for seniors, their families, and RAL owners.

RALNA advocates for residential assisted living business owners and operators with guidance for legal expertise, continued education, national marketing, group purchasing power and a continual positive voice for the industry.

For ongoing support and to learn about new innovative practices start by clicking here.

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