by Dr. Rosanne Faull
The Loss of Memory and the Fear of Dementia are not only ‘hot’ topics, but a concern we have as we age. We all know someone - family member, famous people, Ronald Reagan and Dear Abby (Abigail Van Buren), who have developed dementia. Research is on-going and watching the evening news advertizes more than one medication to ‘slow’ or ‘lessen’ the effects of dementia. There are computer games, such as ‘Lumosity Brain Games’ to exercise memory and attention.
Seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing, a study by John Hopkins University and National Institute on Aging researchers suggests. Although the reason for the link between the two conditions is unknown, the investigators suggest that a common pathology may underlie both and/or the strain of decoding sounds over the years may overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss, leaving them more vulnerable to dementia. Also hearing loss can lead to social isolation, which is a known risk factor for dementia and cognitive disorders.
The John Hopkins University study looked at research from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging (BLSA) starting in 1990 -1994. Hundreds of volunteers were closely followed with repeat examinations every one to two years. Twenty-five percent of initial 639 had some hearing loss but no dementia. By 2008, 58 of those had developed dementia. The researchers found that study participants with hearing loss at the beginning of the study were significantly more likely to develop dementia by the end. The more severe the hearing loss they had, the more likelihood of developing the memory-robbing disease.
Frank Lin, M.D., John Hopkins University, explains that even after the researchers took into account other factors that are associated with risk of dementia, including diabetes, high blood pressure, age, sex and race; hearing loss and dementia were still strongly connected. He states that: “A lot of people ignore hearing loss because it’s such a slow and insidious process as we age. Even if people feel as if they are not affected, we’re showing that it may well be a more serious problem.” Whatever the cause, the scientists report, their finding may offer a starting point for intervention – even as simple as hearing aids – that could delay or prevent dementia by improving patients’ hearing.
Start your new year with a healthy resolution: Get your hearing evaluated. This medical hearing evaluation is paid by insurance, even Medicare, when it is done by a Doctor of Audiology with a medical referral. Learn if you have a hearing deficit and if so, what may help you hear better. Stay involved with your family and friends and keep your brain stimulated with clear, loud speech and sounds.
Rosann W. Faull, Au.D, CCC-A
Board Certified Doctor of Audiology
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