Scientists Uncover Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia

Scientists Uncover Link Between Hearing Loss and DementiaAccording to the World Health Organization, there are roughly 47 million people worldwide living with dementia.

By 2030, that figure is expected to grow to over 75 million.

Doctors and scientists have been trying to identify causes for the dramatic rise in dementia rates in recent years, and now they believe it could be linked to another growing epidemic – hearing loss.

The connection was first recognized when researchers from Johns Hopkins University published the results of a 16-year study on 639 participants aged 36 to 90. At the end of the study, 9 percent of participants had developed some form of dementia, and nearly 6 percent had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Upon conducting further data analysis, the researchers found that subjects who suffered from some degree of hearing impairment were more likely to develop dementia.

For every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the chances of developing dementia increased by 20 percent. Subjects who suffered from severe hearing loss were as much as five times more likely to develop dementia.

Scientists have three theories as to why hearing loss may contribute to dementia.

The first states that when hearing is lost, the brain must work harder to discern meaning from speech.

This means more of the brain’s resources are allotted toward sound recognition, and away from other processes like memory and reasoning.

Other scientists believe hearing loss contributes to accelerated atrophy in certain parts of the brain that process sound.

A third camp hypothesizes that hearing loss leads to social isolation which can make it harder for people to understand and communicate with others.

Now, researchers are conducting additional studies to determine whether treating hearing loss with hearing aids can mitigate the risk of cognitive decline. If so, physicians may finally be able to get a leg up on these two debilitating conditions.

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