Hearing Loss and Dementia

Over the next 30 years, Canadian seniors are expected to account for ¼ of our population and 1 in 11 will have some form of dementia. Concurrently, there will also be an explosion of seniors with hearing loss.

Hearing loss is the second fastest growing chronic condition facing Canadians today, second only to arthritis. The interaction between hearing loss and dementia was recognized a long time ago. In fact, the impact of hearing loss on dementia was reported back in World War II. Now that we have an aging population, the link between the two has become a public health priority. Recent research has reported that seniors with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia over time than seniors who retain their hearing. Scientists have found those with mild hearing loss were twice as likely to develop dementia compared to normal hearing people, three times as likely for those with moderate hearing loss and five times more likely for those with severe hearing impairment.

Good communication function and social interaction in combination with an active lifestyle are key to preventing or slowing cognitive decline that can develop into dementia. To communicate effectively one has to hear and there is a vast array of technological interventions available today to correct for hearing loss. I often say to my patients that if you know you have a hearing loss and want to hear better, the technology is here today otherwise I haven’t done my job well. The implications for ignoring your hearing loss can include auditory deprivation, withdrawal, depression and the heavy financial and societal burden of treating a person with dementia.

The symptoms of hearing loss are very similar to dementia. You could have hearing loss, you could be starting to get some dementia or you could have both. It has been estimated that hearing loss is found in up to 90% of persons with dementia. Hearing loss can make dementia appear significantly worse than it actually is. If you or a family member report confusion, memory problems, poor attention, moodiness and or social isolation more than likely he/she may assume it is the onset of dementia. The important thing is to get your hearing checked to rule out hearing loss. You get your vision checked; you get your teeth checked; you get your cholesterol and blood sugar checked – when did you last have your hearing checked?

Dr. Kim McCarthy, M.Sc., Au D
Audiologist, The Hearing Specialists