Hearing loss and dementia: how are they linked?

PUBLISHED: 17:04 01 August 2018 | UPDATED: 17:04 01 August 2018

Photo copyright: Leightons Opticians & Hearing Care

Photo copyright: Leightons Opticians & Hearing Care

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Dementia affects around 850,000 people in the UK but is widely misunderstood. Leighton Opticians & Hearing Care talk us through its links with hearing loss

Despite the fact dementia affects around 850,000 people in the UK, with 40,000 of those people being under the age of 65, the condition is widely misunderstood, with most of us still uncertain as to how to spot the signs. With a proven link that untreated hearing loss puts you at greater risk of developing dementia, there are certain things to look out for to help recognise the signs of hearing loss, which in turn can help prevent the development of dementia.

What is dementia?

According to research by the Alzheimer’s Society, in 2015 dementia was the number one cause of death in the UK, but most of us don’t fully understand what it actually is. Dementia is the blanket term used to describe all kinds of brain disorders that cause memory loss, speech problems and a difficulty processing thoughts. This is caused by the nerves in your brain being damaged or an issue with brain chemistry. With people living longer and like most things, with age, your chances of developing dementia increase, meaning we have a society where hundreds of thousands of people are living with dementia but only a very minimal amount of action has happened around raising awareness of the condition.

What’s hearing loss got to do with it?

Over time, hearing loss – no matter how subtle – can affect your brain. The part of your brain that processes sound is called the auditory cortex and this needs to be kept active in order for you to hear well. If hearing loss is left untreated it can cause auditory deprivation, meaning your auditory cortex can no longer process sounds as well as it used to. This can have a permanent effect on your hearing and sound processing ability, resulting in that part of your brain being less active – which is the key cause of dementia.

How to prevent dementia

So how do we help prevent the onset of dementia? It’s important to spot the signs of hearing loss as early as possible, to help avoid our auditory cortex deteriorating. Here are some of the steps you can take:

- Have regular hearing tests no matter your age

- Protect your ears against prolonged exposure to loud noises

- Keep your brain active e.g. start up a new hobby, socialise more, get enough sleep or keep yourself physically active

- If advised to by your audiologist – wear hearing aids

- Watch out for changes: do you keep asking people to repeat themselves? Or do you have to keep turning the volume up on the TV?

- Treat any sign of an infection immediately

All of these can help towards detecting or slowing down the progression of a hearing loss which in the long term can affect your overall health and chances of developing dementia. There is a stigma with age and hearing loss, with the belief that hearing loss only affects those over a certain age. This isn’t true, although the older we get the more our hearing deteriorates, hearing loss can affect people of any age.

Take action

If you think you are experiencing hearing loss, or you are concerned about the health of your ears, contact Leightons Opticians and Hearing Care to speak to one of their expert audiologists or book in for a free hearing assessment. Don’t put off getting your hearing tested, the earlier you act on hearing loss, the more likely you are to avoid developing dementia.

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