Getting an annual hearing test is a wise decision for anyone over the age of 65. Seniors have increasing likelihood of hearing loss, so experts recommend getting a test to establish your baseline hearing ability. If it is discovered that you don’t have hearing loss, then your hearing health professional will use this measurement to determine if changes in your hearing ability happen down the line. If you do have hearing loss, however, this test will let us know what kind of hearing aids or other treatment are right for you. When you get treatment for hearing loss, you are helping to prevent a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional issues that are correlated with untreated hearing loss. Did you know that you might also be reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s? Many studies in the past years have shown that those with untreated hearing loss are at a higher risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. They also show that getting treatment for hearing loss reduces that risk. Each September, we celebrate World Alzhiemer’s Month as an opportunity to commemorate those who support Alzheimer’s patients and engage in research about the disease. This year, you can do your part to celebrate World Alzheimer’s Month by getting a hearing test. This test will help reduce your risk of dementia down the road by connecting you with the treatment you need. Let’s take a closer look at the connection between hearing loss and dementia, including the way that a hearing test can help your cognitive functioning.
Cognition and Communication
When we engage in a conversation, we are also engaging in mental “exercise” at the same time. The rapid back-and-forth of sound, language, and meaning provides an opportunity to improvise our thought process. When a person asks a question, for example, we are provided the opportunity to consider something we might not otherwise. Even when someone makes a comment or declares an observation, we have the opportunity to come up with an appropriate response on the spot. This process makes it possible for the mind to stay limber and strong, much like the muscles of the body when they are exercising. Communication is one of the best ways to promote healthy cognition as the senior years progress.
Hearing Loss and Communication
As we know, hearing loss can get in the way of the communication process. When we are faced with a conversation, rather than hearing full units of language, we encounter a random assemblage of sounds. Those sounds, rather than occurring as units of decipherable meaning, seem more like a puzzle without all the pieces. Putting together those sounds into a meaningful whole can require all the effort the brain has to give. This increased cognitive load can have a ripple effect throughout the mind. Many experts suspect that the higher rates of dementia among those with untreated hearing loss can be attributed to this struggle to communicate.
An additional factor in the connection between hearing loss and dementia has to do with social isolation. Not only do conversations become more difficult for those with hearing loss, but they also become less frequent. Those with untreated hearing loss have higher rates of social isolation. For some, this withdrawal from social interaction is a conscious choice. When conversations become so difficult, they would rather exempt themselves from socializing altogether. Others don’t realize that they are avoiding social interaction. They might feel embarrassed by hearing loss, frustrated by their encounters, or exhausted by conversations. If hearing loss contributes to social isolation, it is also limiting the number of challenging conversations that come along. That reduction in stimulating conversation deprives the mind of the exercise it needs to stay healthy and strong.
With these dynamics of hearing loss and dementia in mind, there is no better time to get a hearing test. That exam is a simple way to learn about your hearing ability, including whether or not you need to seek treatment. When hearing loss becomes an issue for you, it is crucial to get treatment right away, not only assisting your communication ability and alleviating social isolation, but also with potential benefits for your cognitive health down the line.