Let’s “Change the Conversation”…The Connection between Hearing Loss and Dementia: Understanding the Link

Within the field of Audiology, a new objective has emerged in recent times and that is – “Change the conversation: the link between Hearing Loss and Dementia.” The focus of this objective is to raise awareness about the relationship between these two conditions and emphasise the significance of early intervention.

My name is Erin Seamer and as an Audiologist with over 20 years of experience, I’ve witnessed this shift in our message. 10-20 years ago, most of my time was dedicated to assisting patients with significant hearing problems or ear conditions. They would visit when their hearing loss was already moderate to profound, and they were aware of their struggles. Appointments with these individuals is still a regular occurrence in my day because they prioritise, value, and need optimal hearing outcomes.
However, we’re trying to “change the conversation” by encouraging anyone aged 65 years+ to attend annual hearing assessments, even if their hearing seems normal. One reason behind this initiative lies in the strong evidence linking hearing loss and dementia, emphasising the importance of early intervention. Simply put; we are trying to detect hearing issues when they are mild and provide appropriate support at a younger age to reduce the risks.

Some key points regarding the link between hearing loss and dementia:

  1. The Research: We are all aware that hearing deteriorates with age, we also know that cognitive decline occurs as we age. It comes as no surprise that many individuals experience both these health conditions together. However, what you may not know is that the link between hearing loss and dementia has been well documented through numerous studies. A couple of notable studies include the Lancet Public Health* study which found hearing loss was the most modifiable risk factor for dementia and the John Hopkins Medical* study that found a mild hearing loss attributed to double the risk, a moderate loss 3x the risk and a severe hearing loss 5x the risk of dementia. It’s difficult to describe such influential studies here, but I’m happy to discuss in person or references can be provided upon request*
  2. Unravelling the Connection: While the exact mechanisms behind this link are still being explored, the factors thought to influence the correlation include;
    Cognitive Load: Struggling to hear and comprehend conversations demands additional mental effort, this overloads the brain’s cognitive resources and affects memory and comprehension.
    • Social Isolation: Hearing loss can lead to social withdrawal and isolation, reducing opportunities for cognitive stimulation and engagement.
    • Brain Structure: Auditory deprivation could lead to changes in brain structure, particularly in areas responsible for sound and language processing, potentially impacting cognition.
    • Shared Risk Factors: Hearing loss and dementia may share common risk factors like age, cardiovascular health, and genetics.
  3. Impact on Quality of Life: Both hearing loss and dementia significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. Untreated hearing loss can lead to frustration, anxiety, and feelings of isolation due to communication difficulties. As dementia progresses, memory loss, disorientation, and communication challenges further exacerbate these feelings, making daily tasks more challenging.
  4. Early Intervention: Addressing hearing loss early is thought to play a role in slowing cognitive decline, because amplification can improve communication and reduce cognitive load, enhancing an individual’s ability to engage socially                                                                                                                                                                                                                      So….. it’s time to “change the conversation” around hearing tests. For those aged over 65 years, I’d be happy to see you for a hearing test, even if you have no apparent hearing issues. After that an annual hearing health check-up is recommended, think of it like any of your other health checks and stop thinking a hearing test only leads to a hearing aid! By addressing hearing loss early and employing effective communication strategies, individuals can enhance cognitive abilities and overall quality of life. It is hoped that increased awareness leads to better hearing healthcare practices and earlier intervention providing the vital auditory stimulation earlier in life.

If you or a loved one are aged 65+ and haven’t had a hearing test in the past 12 months, it is highly recommended. Politely, YES I’m saying…. if your Mum, your Dad, your spouse, aunt/uncle or sibling, fits in this candidacy, I do believe everyone over 65 years should have an Audiologist they know and trust. They don’t need to visit regularly, but once a year let’s get your hearing checked, “lets change the conversation”.

Funding options are available to help with the cost of hearing assessments, and in many cases, the assessment is free (Pensioners, Veterans). Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at 07 3214 3641 or hello@hearinghelpredcliffe.com.au, and we would be delighted to explain how you may access this funding.

Let’s “change the conversation” and work together to promote better hearing health and cognitive well-being, ensuring a brighter future for all. Visit us at Hearing Help, located in Newport Marketplace Shopping Centre; Tenancy M01, 10 Lakeview Promenade, Newport QLD 4020, (inside Newport Physio & Health).