Hearing Loss Increases the Risk of Dementia


Hearing loss is a health-risk time bomb. Present in two thirds of older adults, the impacts of hearing loss go far beyond the struggle to hear, to communicate easily. Hearing loss is not just a nuisance that comes with aging.

As a result of research at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and other prominent medical schools and research centers around the world, we now know that hearing loss increases the risks of dementia.

“Hearing loss is the largest modifiable risk factor for developing dementia, exceeding that of smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and social isolation.” —Jane Brody from The New York Times, December 30, 2019


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How much does hearing loss increase the risk of dementia?

Research at Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging indicates older Americans with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia than those who retain their hearing. For example

  • People with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss had twofold, threefold, and fivefold increased risk.
  • In people 60 and older, more than 36.4% of the risk of dementia was accounted for by hearing loss.
  • For Alzheimer's disease, risk increases the following way: for every 10 decibels of hearing loss the additional risk increases by 20%. In other words, a mild loss of hearing has a significant impact on risk.

Any Hearing Loss May Be Cause for Concern

Hearing-loss research at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons reports the largest decrease in cognitive ability occurred in those whose hearing was just starting to become impaired, just 10 dB off the perfect mark. "Most people with hearing loss believe they can go about their lives just fine without treatment, and maybe some can," says Justin Golub, MD, who led the study. "But hearing loss is not benign. It has been linked to social isolation, depression, cognitive decline, and dementia. Hearing loss should be treated. This study suggests the earlier, the better." —ScienceDaily

Why does hearing loss increase the risk of dementia?

Your brain needs a sufficient amount of ‘sound’ to function optimally. Healthy hearing achieves this. But with diminished hearing, less auditory information reaches the brain. It's true — hearing is sound for thinking.

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Hearing aids reduce the risk of dementia

If you have a loss of hearing, using hearing aids lowers your risk of dementia, slows (or reverses) cognitive decline. People who wear hearing aids reduce their risk of dementia by 18%, depression by 11%, and fall-related injuries by 13%.

Hearing loss...a particularly high-risk factor of dementia

"Early detection of Mild Cognitive Impairment is critical. It impacts an estimated 12-18% of adults over the age of 60, and 10-20% of people with Mild Cognitive Impairment will develop dementia-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s from the age of 65. Hearing loss is recognized as a particularly high-risk factor of dementia." Business Wire

Waiting doesn't work

If you are an adult over 50 years of age, schedule an annual hearing screening with an audiologist. A 15-minute hearing screening is an objective measure of your current hearing ability — not how well you think you can hear.

Even if you do not suspect you have a hearing loss, it is wise to get a hearing screening annually for two reasons…

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Reason 1: Even a 10-decibel loss of hearing impairs cognition

At Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Justin S. Golub, MD, investigated whether a cognitive decline was present in people classified as having normal hearing but had some loss of hearing. He found

  • Using the clinical definition of hearing loss (≤25 decibels), decreased hearing was associated with diminished cognition in adults with normal hearing for all cognitive tests used in the study.
  • Researchers also measured clinically significant decreases in cognition at hearing losses of only 10 and 15 decibels (hearing losses in the range of 10-15 decibels is considered normal hearing).

Reason 2: Hearing loss changes brain structures, permanently

Researchers at Johns Hopkins discovered the brains of people with hearing loss atrophied faster than those with normal hearing (confirmed by MRI evidence). The study's lead, Dr. Frank Lin, advises treating hearing loss before structural changes to the brain occur.

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A brain-health time bomb

Dementia Triggered by Hearing Loss

This report arms you with the facts so you can reduce your risk of dementia triggered by hearing loss.

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