What You Need to Know About Hearing Loss and Dementia

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Written by Jenny Smiechowski, staff writer for The Birches

You probably know that physical inactivity, smoking and poor eating habits increase your risk of dementia. But here’s something you may not know: There’s a link between hearing loss and dementia too.

Severe hearing loss, when left untreated, makes you five times more likely to develop dementia. Even untreated mild hearing loss doubles your dementia risk. Why is there such an elevated dementia risk for people with poor hearing?

Because hearing stimulates your brain.

“Studies show that if people aren’t hearing correctly, they start to sit by themselves. They don’t interact. They’re not learning new things. And their brain starts to shrink. Parts of the brain actually start to die off,” said Dr. Dawn Heiman, founder of Advanced Audiology Consultants, an audiology practice with offices in Woodridge and Oak Brook.

Heiman says that people often ignore hearing problems to avoid the embarrassment of having a hearing aid. But by doing that, they wreck their quality of life and brain health.

“I don’t want people to worry about what other people think like they’re in middle school,” said Heiman. “I want them to know that they’re worth hearing. They’ll be happier if they can hear, and it can help them to stay sharper.”

Fortunately, Heiman says that once you understand the link between hearing loss and brain health, you can use it to your benefit. The first step is getting your hearing checked, especially if you notice that you’re having trouble hearing. Once your hearing is on track, you can stimulate your brain through simple daily habits, like:

  • Listening to audiobooks or talk radio for at least a half hour every day.
  • Playing quiet music in the background when you’re doing other things like cleaning or reading.
  • Turning on music that you love whenever it gets too quiet. It will instantly lift your mood and make you happier.
  • Having conversations with family and friends daily.

But there’s one other thing you need to know about the link between hearing loss and dementia.

Not only does hearing loss increase your risk of the disease, sometimes it masquerades as the disease. Hearing loss and dementia have overlapping symptoms, like a decreased ability to communicate. So it’s important for anyone with the early signs of dementia to receive a hearing test too.

“I know people who come away from being fit with hearing aids, and they’re acting like a completely different person,” said Heiman. “They’re responding to questions appropriately. You ask them a joke, and they give you the punchline. They know what’s going on, they just couldn’t hear, so they weren’t acting like themselves.”

If you’d like more helpful information from Dr. Dawn Heiman about the link between hearing and brain health, join us on March 13 for her presentation “Hearing and Dementia” from 7-8 pm in The Birches’ third floor activity room. The program is free and open to the public. Please RSVP to kfagan@birches.net or call 630.581.7350.