Hearing loss is a common problem, usually, but not always, associated with aging. 38 million Americans, more than ten percent of the population, experiences hearing loss. Only 25 percent of people over 80 wear hearing aids, yet 80 percent of them have significant hearing loss. Most of us are familiar with the obvious effects of hearing loss: frustrated partners, family members, and friends, constantly asking people to repeat themselves, missing dialogue when watching tv and going to the movies or theatre.
However, what most people do not realize is that hearing loss is the largest modifiable risk factor for developing dementia, exceeding that of smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, and social isolation. A published study indicates that preventing or treating hearing loss in midlife has the potential to diminish the incidence of dementia by 9 percent.
Difficulty hearing impairs brain function by keeping people socially isolated and inadequately stimulated. The more the brain works to process sound depletes its ability to perform other cognitive tasks. Memory is adversely affected as well. Reduced stimulation leads to brain atrophy.
Unfortunately, there are currently no treatments for dementia. Therefore, we should take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the onset of dementia. Treating hearing loss is one of the easiest steps we can take. Many of our hearing aid patients are happy not just to communicate more effectively, but to hear birds chirping and leaves rustling for the first time in years.