DID you know that research suggests hearing health may be an important factor in staving off dementia?
Recent research found that people who had a higher risk of dementia and sought treatment for hearing loss were less likely to develop dementia in comparison to people in the same risk category whose hearing loss went untreated. One study found that dementia risk dropped by half.
Pardon the choice of words, but that’s a bit of an earful, isn’t it? Essentially, this research and other similar studies suggest that it’s a good idea to get your hearing checked regularly.
One in six Australians have some degree of hearing loss, which increases to one in two between the ages of 60 and 70. Approximately three quarters of people over 70 experience hearing loss.
On average, people wait around 7 years to seek treatment – valuable time to be missing out on day-to-day conversation. This is also time that may be very important in lessening the impact on your brain as you age.
WHAT DO EXPERTS SAY
It is thought that hearing loss can increase risk of dementia because it increases social isolation and reduces your ability to participate in activities that stimulate the brain. Another theory is that so much energy is put in to working out what people are saying that over time it is taxing on the brain, and thus impacts your working memory.
The upshot is, we don’t really know why hearing loss is associated with dementia, just that people with untreated hearing loss are at a higher-than-average risk of memory loss.
Regardless of the reason why, there is agreement that hearing is linked to healthy brain function. The increase in dementia risk for people with hearing loss may be small, but getting checked and seeking treatment is something proactive that you can do as a preventative measure.
WHAT TO DO
Hearing loss can happen slowly over time, meaning that it may sneak up on you. If you wear reading glasses, do you remember the day you realised that you’d been struggling to read for quite some time without knowing it? It can be quite a shock.
An early sign of hearing loss might be having a hard time making out words in conversation, or when watching tv. This is often worse when there is a lot of background noise.
The good news is, there’s better technology than ever to treat hearing loss, and the sooner it is diagnosed the better.
If you’ve noticed that the volume bar on the tv has crept up, that you’re asking people to speak up or repeat themselves more often than you used to, or that people around you have started to develop an annoying habit of mumbling, it might be time to make an appointment to get your hearing checked or to get fitted for a hearing aid.
If you’ve already got a hearing aid that you don’t wear, it may be a good idea to dust it off and give it another go. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 people with hearing aids fall into this category, so if this is the case you certainly aren’t alone.
Remember, there’s no one way to reduce the risk of dementia and there are many other factors such as eating healthily, staying active, challenging your mind (e.g. by learning new things) and keeping socially active and engaged.
WHERE TO GO
If you are concerned about dementia, speak to your GP about getting tested.
If you would like to get your hearing checked, you can also speak with your GP for more information. The Australian Government funds a Hearing Service Program, which you can find here.
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