According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), more than 48 million people in the United States struggle with some form of hearing loss, including one in four of those over the age of 65. Since hearing difficulties can make it more challenging to connect with others, this can exacerbate the feelings of isolation that many seniors already experience. For quite some time, the general consensus in the medical community was that hearing loss is an inevitable part of the aging process that eventually impacts everyone. However, more recent research contradicts this theory and also shows that hearing impairment is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
Understand the Connection
Dementia is a condition that affects some 50 million people worldwide. It encompasses a range of health conditions relating to impairment of memory and/or language or problem solving skills that impact daily life. Dementia has a far-reaching impact – from relationships with others, to feelings, mood, emotions and decision-making skills. This condition can hinder an individual’s ability to perform everyday tasks and lead to significantly reduced independence.
Some researchers theorize that for those with a hearing impairment, auditory processing may overly tax a brain that is already working to perform tasks related to memory or language and that this “overload” may adversely affect cognitive performance. Others believe that the brain experiences added stress when an individual strains to hear, resulting in an impairment to brain structure over time. Still others suspect that the brains of those with hearing loss may receive insufficient stimulation, resulting in structural changes. Some believe that the isolation that often results from hearing loss may be the missing link between hearing loss and dementia.
Identify and Treat Hearing Loss
Regardless of the cause, it is generally accepted that there is a clear connection between dementia and hearing loss. Therefore, it is very important to identify and treat auditory issues. You may have noticed that you or someone close to you regularly asks people to repeat things or has difficulty following or participating in conversations. Maybe the television or radio volume is always turned up very high, or they don’t always hear the phone or doorbell. You may also notice them withdrawing from social situations. These are all “red flags” pointing to a possible hearing impairment.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has hearing loss, it is important to address the issue right away. Consulting with an audiologist may help diagnose any impairment and provide guidance on potential solutions. Auditory rehabilitation (also referred to as aural rehabilitation or AR) can provide coping and communication strategies for hearing impaired individuals and their families. AR can specifically help those with a hearing impairment:
- Understand their legal rights.
- Learn about the use and maintenance of hearing aids or cochlear implants.
- Get tips and advice for difficult conversations or communications.
- Get tips for improving lip reading skills.
- Learn how to use visual cues to communicate.
Seek Solutions and Support
Scientists continue to work diligently to create and improve hearing aid technology, and there are many new types of hearing aids available in the marketplace. In addition, many specialty products have been developed for those who suffer from hearing loss, such as: vibrating alarm clocks and doorbells with flashing lights.
In addition to appropriate medical care, it is very important that those with hearing impairment have access to daily social interactions. Being a part of a supportive community can be tremendously helpful. At Lighthouse Senior Living, residents engage with friends and family in a comfortable community setting. Our program schedule boasts a variety of activities such as fitness classes, special craft sessions, regular social get-togethers and performances and presentations by invited guests. We have found that proactively detecting and addressing any hearing impairment enables our residents to engage more fully in social activities and lead a richer, more vibrant life. Schedule a virtual or in-person tour with one of our Lighthouse Senior Living communities today.