Hearing Loss link to Dementia

Hearing Loss and Dementia

One evening when my brother was leaving work, he had a problem.  He couldn’t remember how to get home.  He hit a speed dial button on his phone, and called his wife to come and get him.

He was subsequently given a temporary diagnosis of “early onset dementia”.  He was 62 at the time.  Since that time, the early diagnosis was confirmed, and he is on medication, unable to drive or work.

A recently released paper, published in 2011 links hearing loss with dementia.  Over the past few years, Dr. Frank Lin has delivered unwelcome news to those of us with hearing loss. His work looks “at the interface of hearing loss, gerontology and public health,” as he writes on his Web site. The most significant issue is the relation between hearing loss and dementia.

The paper released statistics of 639 subjects, ranging in age at the beginning of the study from 36 to 90 (with the majority between 60 and 80). The subjects were part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. None had cognitive impairment at the start of the study.  They followed the subjects for 18 years, some of whom had hearing losss.

“Compared to individuals with normal hearing, those individuals with a mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss, respectively, had a 2-, 3- and 5-fold increased risk of developing dementia over the course of the study,”  The worse the hearing loss, the greater the risk of developing dementia. The correlation remained true even when age, diabetes and hypertension, other conditions associated with dementia, were ruled out.

Last month, Dr. Lin and his associates looked at a study of 1984 older adults completed between 1997 and 1998.  They found the results virtually identical to the 2011 study.  Hearing loss resulted in a “30 to 40 percent faster rate of loss of thinking and memory abilities”

The use of hearing aids did not appear to lessen the risk of cognitive impairment.  But further studies will be made in regards to the early use of hearing aids, and the length of time the subject had employed them.

They determined that heredity played an extensive role when the subject’s ancestor was both hearing and cognitively impaired.

My brother is doing well.  His unhappiness about not being able to have the freedom of coming and going as he pleases is the most frustrating part of his dementia.  There are signs the condition is worsening, but changes in medication have allowed him to function in a mostly normal fashion.  Our maternal Grandfather was hearing impaired, and eventually developed dementia.

James Turnage

Columnist-The Guardian Express

 

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