Dementia and Hearing Loss

Dementia: is it a consequence of hearing loss?

Hearing Loss and Dementia

Current research indicates that sensory losses, especially hearing loss, are risk factors for the development of dementia.

There is an overlap between the symptoms of hearing loss and dementia. Both cause vagueness, misunderstandings, memory loss and social withdrawal.

Research has also identified hearing loss as a potential indicator of the development of dementia.

Hearing Loss and Dementia – the Social Connection

Hearing loss reduces stimuli input to the brain and hampers social interaction contributing to the development of dementia.

There is a hypothesis that hearing loss and progressive cognitive impairment are caused by a common neuropathological process which may be the same that leads to Alzheimer’s disease. Indeed the primary area of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease is the mid-temporal lobe which is the area where the nerve pathways converge from the ear to the brain.

There is also the likelihood of another neurobiological process such as vascular disease and factors like smoking and family history of diabetes and hypertension causing both hearing loss and dementia.

Diagnosis of Hearing Loss and Dementia

There may be a misdiagnosis of dementia in individuals affected by hearing loss.

An untreated hearing loss can interfere with the diagnosis of dementia. This is because most diagnostic tests to assess cognitive function rely on verbal communication between the examiner and the patient.

Hearing Aids may Help as Preventative Treatment

Researchers are also considering the efficacy of utilising hearing aids and other forms of hearing recovery as a preventative treatment for early stages of dementia.

Prior to diagnostic assessment of dementia, it is important to rule out sensory impairments such as vision and hearing losses. Treatment of the sensory impairment should always precede an assessment of cognitive function.

In case of vision impairment appropriate glasses or surgical intervention when applicable should be undertaken.

In case of hearing loss, the appropriate fitting of hearing aids or an implantable device such as cochlear implant must be considered.

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