There has been a lot of publicity in the news recently about the effect of hearing loss on dementia and how hearing aids can reduce that risk.
May 15th – 21st is Dementia Action Week, a national awareness and campaign week led by the Alzheimer’s Society. Trevor Chapman, Lead Audiologist at angli-EAR Hearing in Great Shelford has over 18 years’ experience helping people hear better and raising awareness about hearing loss prevention. Trevor explains the link between hearing loss and dementia and how hearing aids can protect against the risk:
What is Dementia?
The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. It mainly (but not always) affects people over the age of 65 and the likelihood of developing dementia increases significantly with age. These changes are often small to start with, but dementia is progressive and can become severe enough to affect daily life. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms then make an appointment to see your GP in the first instance.
How are hearing loss and dementia linked?
Medical journal, The Lancet, reports that those with hearing loss who do not use hearing aids had a 42 percent higher risk of developing dementia compared to those who used the hearing devices and is a direct cause in 9.1% of dementia cases. While more research into the link between hearing loss and dementia is needed, when hearing loss occurs, it can cause brain cells to degenerate which may result in cognitive decline and ultimately, dementia.
Adding in psycho-social effects of hearing loss, this creates a “perfect storm” for dementia risk. Often a person with a hearing loss will ask people to repeat themselves or they might struggle to follow a conversation as they don’t pick up all the words. This can lead people to withdraw into the background or stop going out altogether. Social isolation is also a dementia risk.
The Lancet concluded that by treating your hearing, the brain becomes more stimulated and the damage to the brain cells can be prevented. Yet, studies have shown that of those diagnosed with hearing loss, only 15% actually use hearing aids to do something about it.
How do you treat hearing loss?
If you have hearing problems, help is available. Treatment depends on the cause and severity of your hearing loss.
- Removing wax blockage. Earwax blockage is a reversible cause of hearing loss. An audiologist may remove earwax by flushing, scooping or suctioning out softened wax.
- Hearing aids. If your hearing loss is due to damage to your middle or inner ear, a hearing aid can help by making sounds stronger and easier for you to hear. An audiologist can discuss with you the potential benefits of using a hearing aid, recommend a device and fit it for you.
- Implantable devices. Depending on the cause of your hearing loss, an implantable device (including cochlear implants, middle ear implants, auditory brainstem implants, and bone-anchored hearing aids) may be an option for you. If you’re considering an implant, your audiologist, along with a medical doctor who specialises in disorders of the ears, nose and throat (ENT), can discuss the risks and benefits with you.
- Surgical procedures. Surgery may be necessary if you’ve had a traumatic ear injury or repeated infections that require the insertion of small tubes that help the ears drain.
I think I have hearing loss, what should I do?
If you think you have a hearing loss, you should schedule an appointment with your GP. The Alzheimer’s Society has a checklist of possible dementia symptoms to help you start the conversation with your GP if you are concerned.
Another option is seeking direct care from an audiologist through the private sector.
angli-EAR Hearing and Tinnitus Solutions is a private audiology clinic and we can help you with your hearing loss with our state-of-the art diagnostic assessments and hearing devices. All our results can be provided to your GP, to help reduce the risk of dementia and its life changing impact.
For more information on Dementia Action Week, visit the Alzheimer’s Society website here