A recent study by Johns Hopkins Medicine found strong links between hearing loss and dementia, with mild hearing loss doubling the risk of developing the condition. We spoke to audiologist Brian Taylor, Director of Audiology at hearing aid company Signia to find out more.
Does hearing loss lead to serious conditions, or is it usually a symptom of something else?
While uncommon, untreated hearing loss can be a symptom of serious medical conditions - making it extremely important to monitor hearing health throughout one’s life.
Specifically, sudden hearing loss or hearing loss in only one ear should be immediately assessed by a hearing care professional. These symptoms could be an indication of a condition like sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or SHL, a kind of nerve deafness that requires assessment and treatment from a physician.
Additionally, more research findings are being uncovered that support a link between hearing loss and various other health conditions. It’s not accurate to say that hearing loss causes these other health conditions, but it is fair to conclude that people with hearing loss are more likely to suffer from various other health conditions including dementia, depression, social isolation and an increased risk of falling.
Which conditions typically involve hearing loss?
As previously mentioned, hearing loss has been linked to other health conditions including dementia, depression and even heart disease. For example, in a study that tracked 639 adults for nearly 12 years, Johns Hopkins expert Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D, and his colleagues found that mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk. Moderate hearing loss tripled risk, and people with a severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia.
Let’s dive into three theories behind the link between hearing loss and some of these other conditions:
- Common Cause: The hypothesis that there is a common factor that is responsible for age-related deterioration in cognitive and non-cognitive processes. This implies the same decline in function at the cellular level is happening in the ear as well as in the cortex of the brain.
- Cascade Theory: This theory suggests that when the brain is starved of sounds because of hearing loss, the language centers of the brain decline more rapidly. At the same time, because of hearing loss, persons tend to avoid social situations which in turn drives up the chances a person becomes lonely or depressed.
- Cognitive Load Theory: This hypothesis is evident when a person is trying to complete two tasks at the same time – something we often engage in without even thinking about it. For example, let’s say you are on a busy street corner trying to find a restaurant that just opened. When you ask someone for directions, you are intently listening to the speaker through the clutter of background noise, while simultaneously committing the verbal message to short term memory. In these dual task scenarios, people with hearing loss become fatigued and must work much harder at listening than those with normal hearing.
What is the best way to maintain healthy hearing?
- Be aware of noise levels. Noise is measured in decibels. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has determined that prolonged exposure to noise greater than 85 decibels is unsafe. There are free and inexpensive highly-rated sound level meter apps that detect and measure harmful noise.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking constricts blood flow. That said, the ear is actually one of the first places that damage occurs because the blood vessels are so minuscule relative to other parts of the body.
- When necessary, wear hearing protection. If exposed to extended periods of loud noise, consider wearing earplugs or other protective ear equipment.
- Get tested. Even if your hearing feels healthy, after the age of 50, it’s important to get tested a few times a decade. Regardless of age, if at any point you feel your hearing is beginning to decline, it’s vital to make an appointment with your local hearing care professional.
- If recommended, wear hearing aids. Modern digital hearing aids are here to help. Today’s hearing aids are small and discreet. Some even resemble consumer earbuds and come in attractive colours, unlike the bulky hearing devices of yesterday. They’re controllable from a smartphone, can stream music, and include advanced digital signal processing so they sound perfectly natural.
Once someone starts to become affected by hearing loss, can it be reversed?
If you have a medical condition that causes sudden hearing loss, it’s possible to reverse it with prompt diagnosis and treatment. That said, noise-induced hearing loss and age-related hearing loss are not only more common, they are not reversible. However, with proper prevention and treatment, it’s possible to slow down the decline significantly.
How is Signia helping people with hearing loss?
Signia is one of the world’s leading hearing aid brands. We aim to enhance human performance through iconic innovations and consumer-friendly designs that drive mass market adoption of hearing aids.
This past year, Signia has proven that no longer does a hearing aid need to look traditional. Signia Active’s discreet, earbud design ensures better hearing in a modern design, while its portable rechargeability and Bluetooth® connectivity enable wearers to remain connected all day long.
Signia has also launched the Motion Charge&Go X lineup of hearing aids, including the breakthrough Motion Charge&Go SP X – the first-ever rechargeable super power hearing aid that delivers uncompromised hearing with up to 61 hours of run-time per charge.
Most recently, Signia introduced its Augmented Xperience (AX) hearing aid platform that intelligently and automatically processes sound to better ensure that patients hear more clearly – regardless of the listening environment.
Together, these innovations offer more ways to meet the needs and preferences of those with hearing loss. Signia is dedicated to providing hearing care professionals and their patients with innovative solutions that enhance hearing in all scenarios.
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