Seniors May Now Fear ‘Cognitive Decline’ More Than Cancer; Hearing Loss a Factor

By Dr. Anne Simon

June 14, 2018

Loss of mental acuity—memory loss, depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s—was named as a top concern for over 65% of respondents in a 2015 National Council on Aging survey. This is reflected by an increase of cognitive decline disorders in the aging population. A growing and promising line of research has identified hearing loss treatment as a preventative measure. Two contributing factors to cognitive decline are directly impacted by hearing loss: social isolation and reduced brain stimulus.

When you have hearing loss, communication is more difficult and requires more effort. Often this results in the choice to withdraw from social activities. Research has identified this loneliness as a risk factor for cognitive decline. Hearing loss also robs the brain of an important source of stimulus. The loss of stimulus directly leads to a reduction of brain activity in the areas of the brain that process sound.

Cognitive decline, social isolation, and poor emotional health are all related to hearing loss.

Hearing loss treatment is a significant lever for maintaining your mental and decision-making faculties as you age. What is of great concern to researchers is that only 20% of those with hearing loss seek treatment. Early detection and treatment—as with many other health matters—increases the odds of success. This makes treatment of hearing loss one of the wisest investments in maintaining mental acuity as you age.

Another compounding factor in this relationship is poorly treated hearing loss. There are some who look at hearing loss treatment casually. Hearing loss patients can be lulled into thinking of treatment as an external volume button. But, when a particular hearing aid technology is a poor fit or a device is not programmed correctly, it does not stimulate the brain properly. While a patient may see some improvement in communication, their investment in treatment is not optimized for the preventative benefit they could realize.

This growing body of evidence makes a strong case for a recipe that can defend your brain from future cognitive decline:

  1. If you are over the age of 40, have any issues understanding speech, or work around loud noise, get your hearing tested. You would be wise to have your hearing re-tested every 1-3 years.

  2. If you have hearing loss, treat it. The earlier you start treatment, the more of your cognitive and emotional capacity you can preserve. The maxim applies: pay now or pay later with interest.

  3. Work with an audiologist who can identify which technology would be the best fit for you. Every hearing aid manufacturer claims they have a technological advantage. But, what is optimal for one patient won’t necessarily be a good fit for another. Also: while a few manufactures invest in research and development, some merely rely on distribution through national retail chains and private label agreements and are consistently behind in technology.

  4. Insist on testing that verifies that the programming of the hearing aid is on-target. There is great variance in hearing loss profiles and each brain is unique in how it processes sound and understands speech. You want to ensure that your hearing treatment is calibrated so the amplification is set for what you need at various frequencies.

Hearing loss is a serious, significant health issue. Untreated or poorly treated hearing loss can have a profound detriment on your cognitive and emotional health. Consider hearing loss treatment an investment in maintaining your mental sharpness as you age. You can reach my office at 208-746-7022 to schedule an appointment.

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