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Hearing Loss and Dementia

My husband and I recently enjoyed a guided group tour of several Greek islands. It was the first for us, which was a travel strategy dictated by my husband’s early stage Frontotemporal Dementia. It was quickly obvious we were in many ways the least challenged of the group with hearing being the most obvious challenge and confusion secondary.  This experience has led me to ask the question, does hearing loss have an association with cognitive loss?

Age-Related Hearing Loss (ARHL), also called presbycusis, is estimated to affect 70-80% of adults between 65 and 75 years of age according to the World Health Organization.1 Bi-lateral sensorineural hearing loss in high frequencies is common as we age. An analysis of the research review showed that ARHL is correlated with decreased quality of life, depression, and is a leading cause of disability. This high frequency hearing loss affects an individual’s ability to hear consonants within words. A word’s meaning is communicated with consonants, resulting in a loss of understanding of simple conversations.2

The loss of hearing in the right ear is more prominent and more significantly associated with cognitive loss.3 Overall scores in executive functioning and memory were lower when hearing loss was present in a cross-sectional study.4

The good news is hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids and electric-acoustic stimulation (cochlear implant). Key elements to successful treatment are:

  • Ability to use the device
  • Appropriate fit
  • Motivation

Take a moment to look at those three elements.  Note only one of them applies to a hearing professional.  Motivation and the ability to use the device both rely solely on the individual. 

Motivation is the individual’s willingness to acknowledge a hearing deficit and seek a solution. If cognition is changing, caregiver motivation may be the impetus, but the ability to use the device may be the obstacle.

Denial and avoidance are directly opposed to successful aging and brain health. For brain health we need to be willing to accept our age-related changes in hearing and be motivated to reach for solutions before cognitive decline.

 

 

By-line:  Cate McCarty, PhD, ADC has been collaborating with Arden Courts in a variety of roles since the late 90’s.  Her background in nursing, activities and admissions has given her a passionate commitment to quality of life for the individual and family with dementia.  Cate is now personally caring for her spouse who has a diagnosis of FTD.

Footnotes

1Sprinzl, G. M., Riechelmann, H. (2010). Current trends in treating hearing loss in elderly people: a review of the technology and treatment options - a mini-review, Gerontology, 56(3): 351-358.

2Patel, R., McKinnon, B. J. (2018).  Hearing loss in the elderly, Clinical Geriatric Medicine, 34(2): 163-174.

3Loughrey, D.G., Kelly, M.E., Kelley, G.A., Brennan, S. & Lawlor, B. A. (2018). Association of age-related hearing loss with cognitive function, cognitive impairment and dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Journal of American Medical Association Otolaryngologic Head and Neck Surgery,144(2): 115-126..

4Lin, F. R., Ferrucci, L., Metter, E. J., An, Y., Zonderman, A. B., et al. (2011).  Hearing loss and cognition in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, Neuropsychology, 25(6): 763-770.

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