With this section on Hearing Loss and Dementia, EFHOH wishes to present and share articles and information concerning the possible links between hearing loss and dementia. By raising questions and pointing out past issues, we also wish to draw attention to possible myths and misconceptions when discussing the possible links between hearing loss and dementia.
Hearing loss and deafness have often been associated with being dumb, stubborn, loud, and even mute. People with a hearing loss or deafness have also been accused of having bad manners, etc. The expression “deaf and dumb” was a derogatory label that was sometimes applied to those who had to live with a hearing loss or deafness. This of course dates to a time where it was possible to diagnose hearing loss (HL) and deafness but often not possible to find the cause of the hearing loss. In the epicrisis, it would state: “cause unknown.” This may sound as if it happened many years ago, but this was still taking place in the 1990s and the early 2000s.
Audiological treatments have improved, and technology has become more advanced resulting in more advanced hearing aids and the development and use of cochlear implants. The use of bone-anchored hearing aids has also become more common. There is a broader variety of medical diagnoses and audiological treatments that are available and hearing loss can be treated with better outcomes. Together with these audiological treatments, the use of Assistive Listening Systems (ALSs) is often needed for hard of hearing people to hear precisely what is being said. Additionally, hard of hearing people often need Speech to Text support for communication as well as subtitles/captioning on tv and in the cinemas.
Sign Language, Audiological Treatments, Assistive Listening Systems or Devices, as well as Speech to Text are all examples of access to communication. If we are not fully involved, participating, and included in the communication, we miss out on vital information and we may appear as if our cognition has declined. What has been known to happen with us, is that we are cognitively overworked and overwhelmed due to the extra concentration that is needed to hear or follow, and this is quite stressful for us.
Due to more research in the field of audiology, hearing loss is now a recognized link to other diseases and dysfunctions. Rubella has a close connection to hearing loss and not too long ago, researchers found a link between hearing loss and diabetes for example. EFHOH very much welcomes all possible research in audiology.
In recent research, there seems to be evidence that mid-age onset of hearing loss may lead to developing dementia. It is not yet explained, which type of hearing loss nor is it explained what type of dementia is linked to the mid-age onset of hearing loss. At the same time, no one who receives or utilizes audiological treatment happens to have their hearing completely restored to the common level or range. The question is, what degree and type of hearing loss will lead to cognitive decline and dementia? And how is cognitive decline defined compared to how dementia is being defined? EFHOH strongly recommends further studies and research in this area.
EFHOH recognizes that some types of hearing loss might be directly linked to dementia and that the onset of hearing loss/hearing difficulties could be a sign of dementia as well. We need to be concerned about the mid-life onset of hearing loss. This is typically the age when hearing has been exposed to noisy environments for a prolonged period or decades and that there is likely long-term hearing damage due to this.
When people have the onset of hearing loss, EFHOH questions if these people in all cases develop dementia. Could it be, that with less access to communication that there is a risk of cognitive decline (being more alone, communicating less, and becoming and feeling isolated)? Might the risk also include being cognitively overworked and overly concentrating to manage communication? Both situations may lead to distress and anxiety and require intervention.
EFHOH recommends being aware of any kind of hearing loss and that the European population has their hearing checked regularly not only to prevent hearing loss but also to start treatment as soon as possible. It is important that the individual stays as active as possible in society. It is also important that we are not over-diagnosed with the onset of other diseases like dementia.
EFHOH dissociates from the marketing of hearing aids stating: “get your hearing aids NOW and avoid developing Alzheimer’s,” which tends to scare the population in general. We must demand a well-established and functioning hearing care system all over Europe to offer each one of us a proper examination to diagnose if we suffer from more than just hearing loss. In this respect, it is also important that links between hearing loss and dementia are clearly defined– otherwise, we risk creating too much confusion in this area.
The following links will take you to The Lancet (international medical journal) where you can view reports related to the above-mentioned topics: