More than 50 per cent of Australians aged between 60 and 70 experience some kind of hearing difficulty.
According to Dementia Australia, people with mild symptoms of hearing loss may be twice as likely to develop dementia as those with healthy hearing. And alarmingly, people with severe hearing loss may be five times more likely to develop dementia.
However, Dementia Australia notes that while hearing loss is a risk factor, it does not mean you will develop dementia in your later years.
Research such as the Sydney Memory and Ageing Study 2021 suggests hearing loss creates an additional mental load. More cognitive power is used in decoding words and meanings.
This strain can leave less capacity for memory work.
Another possible reason for this link between hearing loss and mental decline is the deprivation hypothesis. With poorer hearing you miss out on cognitive stimulation.
There is good news though. Data suggests hearing aids can reduce the risk of developing dementia.
According to Professor Brodaty, co-author of the Sydney Memory and Ageing Study, large trials are showing that older adults who wear hearing aids have a reduced risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
Another reason poor hearing increases your risk of dementia is a compounding effect.
When you or a loved one is struggling to hear conversations, a common response is to withdraw. This can lead to social isolation, loneliness and depression. These in turn are risk factors for developing dementia.
A Chinese study of 8844 older people shows the importance of staying actively involved in leisure activities if you have a hearing loss.
The study found that elderly people with self-reported hearing loss who frequently participated in leisure activities performed better on cognitive tests than non-participants.
Interestingly, the benefit of social leisure was more pronounced for the men in the study.
There are some simple changes you can make to improve communication.
Always face the person with the hearing impairment before speaking. Give a context for your conversation such as “In regard to Tuesday …”. Stand still and give speaking and listening your full attention.
Avoid standing with the bright sun behind you. This can put you in shadow and make lip reading difficult.
Summarise any important discussions to check that both people have understood the same thing. Write down important decisions or appointments so they can be referred to later.
Many of us try to adapt to a hearing loss without the use of hearing aids. We speak louder and rely on our friends and family to fill the conversational gaps.
Some indications you or a family member are experiencing a hearing loss include difficulty joining in with conversations, frequently asking someone to repeat information and turning the television or radio up louder than in the past.
If you have concerns, see your doctor who can refer you to an audiologist for assessment. You may be a candidate for hearing aids.
Like exercise or a good diet, a hearing aid is a long-term health investment.
Wearing a suitable hearing aid can lead to improved communication with partners, children and grandchildren. Life is more fun.
Kendall Morton is Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org