WHILE the link between dementia and hearing loss is gradually being unveiled by researchers, they have already identified that people with hearing loss who obtain hearing aids sooner, have less dementia later.
John Hopkins Medicine researchers concluded the brain becomes smaller with age, and significantly, that shrinkage appears to be fast-tracked in older adults with hearing loss. As a result of this finding, their recommendation is for older people to get treatment for their hearing loss sooner rather than ignore it.
Audiologist Dr Tegan Keogh said people tend to underestimate the impact of hearing on their health.
"Because they might be able to hear the dog barking next door, it gives them a false sense of security and they don't realise what they are missing," Dr Keogh said.
"When you have a hearing loss, it's an invisible disability. Because of that, it just gets overlooked."
Dr Keogh recommends that as part of any older person's health plan, they should every two to three years get their hearing tested by an accredited audiologist.
"Quite often I see people who are diagnosed with dementia, but when they come in, they actually have significant hearing loss which makes their dementia look worse than what it is because they aren't able to answer day to day questions as they can't hear them," Dr Keogh said.
She argues seniors should forgo their concerns about the look of hearing aids and get them sooner rather than later so that if there is an onset of dementia, they are more likely to adapt to the aids while their health is changing.
"The longer they wait, not only do they have greater risk of dementia, but they have more difficulty adapting to their hearing aids," Dr Keogh said.
A person with dementia is going to struggle more mentally and physically with understanding how and why an aid works.
"If you are trying to teach someone with dementia to manage a hearing aid, it's very difficult for them to learn," Dr Keogh said.
"If people get set up early, they seem to do a whole lot better,"
People with hearing loss also tend to withdraw communication, and tend to socialise less which leads to higher rates of depression. "We know that this is not a good thing for keeping your brain active and your cognition active," Dr Keogh added.
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