As an Audiologist, it is our job to not only provide appropriate and proper testing procedures, but to offer treatment options and sound advice in how to move forward when a hearing loss is identified. We are often asked, “When is the right time to pursue hearing aids?” or “When will I know if my hearing is bad enough to warrant wearing amplification?” Often people have a difficult time in making that important decision because they are not quite sure if they are ready. So, let’s consider the following: For years research has shown the negative impact that untreated hearing loss has on quality of life: decrease in social activity, the feelings of isolation and fatigue and often the feeling of embarrassment. Over the years, research studies have shown that the earlier individuals begin to use hearing aids the more benefit they will receive due to the auditory portion of the brain being stimulated. Stimulation of the auditory system is necessary to help avoid or postpone long term concerns such as the inability to understand words correctly, the inability to distinguish speech, or even the ability for recall which is termed “auditory deprivation”. Now, important research additionally suggests that there is a strong link between hearing loss and cognitive decline.
Hearing loss and dementia, and even the connection with Alzheimer’s disease, are being studied extensively. In 2010, Johns Hopkins published a research study in which they observed and tested the connections between hearing loss and memory loss. This particular study concluded that “hearing loss is independently associated with incident all-cause dementia.” In other words, the researchers were able to correlate hearing loss and dementia when adjusting for age, sex, race, education, diabetes, smoking, and hypertension. Other studies have been conducted to prove or disprove the theory that the two are connected or that one affects the other. These studies continue to show connections between hearing loss and a decline in cognitive function over time.
Dr. Frank Lin, MD, an Otologist and Epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University states that “If you have hearing loss, it makes sense to get it treated as well as it possibly can be. There is lots of room for improvement—fewer than 15% of those with a clinically significant hearing loss even use hearing aids.”
We believe that it is important to have hearing tested to identify hearing loss and to ensure the proper steps and treatment options are taken if hearing loss is present. The early diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss can allow for further auditory stimulation to the brain, and in turn, possible longevity of cognitive function. This can only make for a more active and productive life experience.