- There could be a common cause for some forms of hearing loss and dementia.
- The effort of listening with a hearing loss could create a “cognitive load” that means that there are fewer resources within the brain available for other cognitive functions.
- Hearing loss might lead to social isolation, which is known to contribute to an increased risk of dementia .
- The loss of auditory input into the brain could cause changes that lead to cognitive decline and dementia.
- Hearing loss could cause people to perform more poorly on certain cognitive tests. However, the connection between hearing loss and dementia still persists after the tests are presented visually instead of verbally.
It is possible that more than one of these could be true at the same time.
Age-related hearing loss is associated with smaller brain volumes, and hearing impairment can accelerate the rate at which the brain shrinks . Research has also shown that parts of the brain normally used to process sound can be diverted to other purposes when hearing loss is present. This can be reversed when hearing aids are used .
Research into whether using hearing aids can lower the risk of dementia is still in its early stages. There have been small-scale research studies which have examined whether using a hearing aid or aids can slow cognitive decline . Most have shown at least some improvement in cognitive function with the use of hearing aids . However, some did not .
Two recent large studies that have looked at whether, over the longer term, using hearing aids can actually reduce the risk dementia . The results for one have recently been published and indicate that hearings aids can reduce this risk . The other is currently running . We await the results with interest!
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