Hearing and Brain Health

Age-Related Hearing Loss is a progressive degenerative disorder that impacts much more than just your hearing! With Age-Related Hearing Loss there is a significant loss of the quantitative number of nerves connecting the ear and the brain, as well as a reduction in the ability of the remaining nerves to properly simulate the brain (making conversation more difficult to follow and understand). These reductions can have a significant impact on your overall cognitive function, relationships and quality of life.

Hearing loss can increase the risk of developing Dementia by 200-500%. The links of hearing loss and this cognitive decline are thought to be the result of multiple factors that include:

Hearing Loss and Cerebral Atrophy (brain shrinkage):

The association of a shrinking brain, resulting from the loss of neurons, with Dementia has been long documented. Even people with MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) show signs of significant cerebral atrophy. In recent years, scientific studies using advanced brain imaging techniques (including fMRI – Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) have demonstrated that hearing impairment is associated with accelerated brain atrophy in both the overall brain, as well as even more advanced reductions in volume associated with the memory, hearing, speech and language portions of the brain.

Hearing Loss and Cognitive Overload:

Hearing loss is not a normal part of aging, and neither is the excess strain that is puts on your brain. While hearing loss may be more common as we age, it is critical that hearing loss is treated. With hearing loss, the brain is constantly on ‘overload’ trying to fill in the missing pieces with speech reading and contextual processing. Increased cognitive load is considered a risk factor for developing Dementia. Studies have found that individuals who treat their hearing loss do not work as hard to listen (i.e. have a reduced cognitive load) and have as much as a 20% increase in memory recall when following a conversation.

Hearing Loss and Social Isolation:

Withdrawal from social situations is common in individuals with hearing loss. Many studies cite feelings of embarrassment, fear of making mistakes in conversations, and feeling like you are not part of the conversation as the common rational for individuals with hearing impairment to separate themselves from family, friends and community. This retreat from social activity has even been found in individuals with a mild degree of hearing loss. In addition, individuals with hearing loss are less likely to engage in physical activity. Both increased social isolation and reduced physical activity are strong risk factors for the development of Dementia.

Hearing loss isn’t just about ‘having difficulty hearing others’ – you “hear” with your ears and your brain - there is so much more that can go wrong, even at an early age. Taking yourself and your loved one to the hearing loss treatment team for an evaluation at 50 (or as close to it!) can give you the best head start on identifying and addressing any problems and to help ensure a healthy, active future!


Patients often ask ‘what can happen if I put off treating my hearing loss?’. There is no such thing as a little bit of high blood pressure. The same goes for hearing loss. There is strong evidence that untreated hearing loss can significantly increase the risk for a several other chronic medical conditions, including diabetes, kidney disease, dementia and falls.

Hearing Loss and Dementia: Hearing loss increases the risk of developing dementia by 200-500%. Every day, 10,000 people turn sixty-five years young. This is expected to continue into the next several decades. At the same time, science will continue to reduce the mortality rate and increase the average life expectancy. As a result, the most prevalent, most costly, and most disabling of all diseases we will see sharply rise over the ensuing decades is dementia—the mind-robbing mental disease that interrupts and interferes with every aspect of life. It destroys our relationship with loved ones and takes away our independence. Dementia is not a normal part of aging.

Every three to four seconds, another patient is diagnosed with dementia. Rates of dementia are estimated to triple in the next thirty years. A physical body with dementia is estimated to outlive the individual’s mental capabilities by ten or more years! It is estimated that the current average cost, per family, to manage and treat a patient with dementia can exceed $50,000 per year.

There is no cure for dementia, but there are treatments and management options available, including several ways to decrease your risk of developing dementia. In fact, a recent study published in The Lancet journal has indicated that the treatment of hearing loss may be the single most effective means of preventing dementia.

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