Hearing Loss and Dementia

Dementia and Alzheimer's and Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss and Dementia: How Struggling to Hear Can Affect the Brain

Hearing loss. We tend to look at it as something that just happens as we grow older: one more inconvenience of aging. But researchers have been uncovering information that suggests the health of our hearing has an important impact on the health of our brains. Among those findings: dementia is more likely to occur among people with hearing loss than among people whose hearing is normal. Here’s some of the evidence that has been reported:

  • One research group studied nearly 2,000 adults whose average age was 77. Six years into the study, those who had enough hearing loss to make conversation a challenge at the start of the study were 24 percent more likely to demonstrate diminished cognitive ability (the ability to focus the brain on tasks).
  • Another study monitored the cognitive health of 639 mentally-sharp people. Over the course of 12 to 18 years, the researchers identified a link between level of hearing loss and the likelihood of dementia, determining that those in the group who had moderate hearing loss were at three times the dementia risk of people with normal hearing.


Experts are pursuing a variety of avenues in trying to determine exactly why hearing loss and dementia are linked. One of the most widely investigated is the idea of increased “cognitive load” (i.e., demands on the brain) due to hearing loss.

While soundwaves are gathered and processed by our ears and the mechanisms of the inner ear, it is our brains that actually recognize all of that information as sound. If hearing loss dampens or damages that “sound data” the brain is required to put extra effort into deciphering it. That increased demand on the brain may take cognitive resources away from other important functions, such as working memory, which can open the door to dementia by overtaxing the brain in the long term.

It has also been shown that there is a link between brain health and hearing loss that has its roots in the social isolation. Such isolation develops when people withdraw from social contact because they’re embarrassed or frustrated by hearing loss. Social isolation can lead to cognitive decline by simply causing the brain to go unexercised.

While all of that seems to paint a bleak picture, not all of the research out there is gloomy. For instance, a study in France gave cochlear implants and auditory rehabilitation sessions to a group of 94 older people who were profoundly deaf in at least one ear. Better than 80 percent of the participants with the lowest cognitive scores at the outset of the study showed significant improvement a year later.

If the hopeful indications being noted by researchers keep coming, the hearing health world may be well on the way to major breakthroughs. We look forward to playing a vital role in holding off the onset of cognitive decline and dementia through the aggressive treatment of hearing loss.

Of course, there’s no reason to wait for dementia research to be completed before you have your hearing tested. If hearing loss is discovered, you can start acting on all that encouraging research right away. The effectiveness of hearing aids in making life happier for the people who use them is already well documented.



1    Lin FR et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2013; 173:293-9
2    Lin FR et al. Arch Neurol. 2011; 68(2):214–220
3    Fratiglioni L et al. Lancet Neurol. 2000; 355(9212):1315–1319
4    Barnes L et al. Neurology. 2004; 63(12):2322–2326
5    Bennett DA et al. Lancet Neurol. 2006; 5(5):406–412
6    Tun PA et al. Psychol.Aging. 2009; 24(3):761–766
7    Sarampalis A et al. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2009; 52(5):1230–1240 8    Hampton DE. Hearing Review. 2014; www.hearingreview.com
9    Amieva HE et al. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2015; 63:2099-2104
10    Kochkin S et al. Hearing Review. 2000; 7(1):8-34

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