Hearing Impairment Is A Strong Indicator Of Dementia

Dementia prevention and treatment has become a pertinent public priority over the years, particularly due to the growing aging population worldwide.  Although some researchers suggest that trends in potential causes of dementia in regards to medicine, lifestyle, and society have most likely led to a decrease in the numbers of people with the disease, statistics show that there will be a global increase in the number of people with dementia with up to 114 million individuals by 2050. Unfortunately, no cure has yet been found for dementia. However, it has been postulated that future numbers of people with dementia may be improved with disease-modifying interventions to combat or stall the progression of the disease.  Strong evidence has indicated that intervention in regards to hearing impairment could contribute to slowing down the onset of or decreasing the likelihood of cognitive decline.

Many studies have proven that there is a strong relationship between hearing impairment and dementia. According to Lin et al., “hearing loss is independently associated with accelerated cognitive decline and incident cognitive impairment.” In another study by Uhlmann et al., researchers found that hearing impairment significantly influences the risk of cognitive dysfunction due to Alzheimer’s disease. Kiely et al.’s study found a significant relationship between cognitive impairment and diminished as well as faster loss in hearing ability.  Furthermore, Valentijn et al. discovered that changes in auditory acuity is a strong predictor of changes in memory performance.  According to a recent study that relied on health claims data, researchers examined the pervasiveness of hearing impairment and dementia according to region and found a strong association.  It is important to note that the association was partly independent of possible vascular risk factors and cerebrovascular illness, providing strength to the specificity of the effect.

It is well known that dementia is an age-related disease, increasing exponentially as one grows older.  According to research, dementia risk doubles every 5 to 6 years, averaging from 2% at age 65 and increasing to 40% at ages 90 to 100.  It is also known that dementia and cognitive impairment are the primary reasons people develop long-term disability in activities of daily living. They are also the primary contributing factors for older adults being institutionalized in long-term care facilities, emphasizing the necessity of appropriate care and intervention programs.  Moreover, not only are dementia patients at higher risk of mortality compared to those without dementia, their family care givers are also at increased risk for psychological morbidity and lower quality of life.

In regards to the negative outcomes of hearing impairment and dementia, both appear to promote “social withdrawal, reduced perception, repeated questioning, impaired short-term or reduced working memory, word finding disorders or communication disorders, as well as problems in following a conversation.”

A recent study found that the incidence of hearing loss is higher among older adults living in a nursing home or assisted living facility, than those who are community-based.   Hearing impairment makes older adults more vulnerable to developing dementia, which means that maintaining good hearing ability is important. Residents in long-term care facilities, such as those in Compton and Covina, California, should be screened for hearing impairment in the incidence of cognitive impairment, and a broader screening for dementia in the incidence of confirmed hearing impairment and clinical suspicion of disabled cognition.  Care staff should strive to preserve their patients’ hearing abilities and give early treatment once hearing impairment is identified in order to maintain social engagement and decrease the suffering related to dementia.