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Hearing loss: A risk factor for dementia



Onset of adult hearing loss is usually very gradual. As a result, people are often unaware that they are suffering from it. They may notice that it is difficult to have a conversation in a noisy restaurant or a car. Family members are often the first to notice. Often, husbands complain that their wives 'mumble' when it is their wives who know that their husbands have a hearing problem.


The effect of adult hearing loss is far-reaching. Studies show close links with depression, social isolation and a threefold increased risk of developing dementia. It also leads to higher unemployment rates and reduced economic productivity.


The key is early detection. The sooner treatment can start, the better the outcome will be.


Managing hearing loss may be one way to help lower your risk of dementia, according to a new report by the Lancet Commissions on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care. The report identified nine age-related risk factors for developing dementia.


They include:

  • Before the age of 18: level of education

  • Between the ages of 45-65: hypertension, obesity and hearing loss

  • Over the age of 65: smoking, depression, inactivity, social isolation and diabetes


What is dementia?

Dementia is a general term used to describe severe memory loss and other mental abilities typically affecting individuals 65 years of age and older. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Dementia is a debilitating condition affecting individuals as well as their family members.


People with dementia are twice as likely to be hospitalized than their cognitively healthy peers, according to a study by University of Washington researchers. Additionally, a March 2017 report by the Alzheimer’s Association indicates that of the 15 million Americans providing physical, emotional and financial support for family members with dementia, 35 percent will themselves suffer health-related issues as a result.


Dementia prevention

Can dementia be prevented? Possibly. The Lancet Commissions report suggests as many as one third of all dementia cases may be delayed or prevented by eliminating some of the risk factors -- specifically, active treatment of hypertension in middle and old age, as well as increasing childhood education, exercise and social engagement, reducing smoking, and managing hearing loss, depression, diabetes, and obesity.


How to manage hearing loss

Managing hearing loss is part of adopting an emotionally, physically and mentally healthy lifestyle. In addition to dementia, untreated hearing loss has been linked to increased risk for depression and social isolation as well as an indicator of other medical conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.


Preserve your hearing

Reduce the risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss by turning down the volume on personal electronic devices and wearing hearing protection whenever you know you’ll be exposed to noisy environments. Don't forget to be prepared for even the unexpected hearing hazards that may be part of your life.


Schedule regular hearing evaluations

It is crucial that you know your hearing status. Knowing gives you the power to decide, whether it be to wait and monitor your status or to see your Audiologist and try the benefits of treatment for yourself.


Make an appointment with a qualified hearing healthcare professional to have your hearing evaluated. If you are concerned about your hearing or the hearing of a loved one, contact your local audiologist for a comprehensive hearing test.


You can also visit www.audiologysa.co.za and select the ‘Find An Audiologist’ tool for further assistance.


Just as many adults are diligent about getting annual medicals, it is good practice to schedule a hearing test each year. Once you have a baseline audiogram, you and your hearing health provider can closely watch for changes and take action if and when necessary. 


Treat your hearing loss

Although our ears collect the sound, it’s our brain which makes sense of all the noise. If you are diagnosed with hearing loss and hearing aids are recommended, don’t delay treatment. Today’s hearing devices are discreet, comfortable and connect to the latest technology. Not only will you be able to hear better, recent research indicates your brain will be healthier, too.


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