This is a cautionary tale but some light shines brightly to guide our passage away from danger: Hearing Loss can end badly—but we have options!
First, the bad news. Mounting evidence has established a strong link between untreated hearing loss (HL) and diminished cognitive function, accelerated mental decline, rapid rates of brain tissue loss, and other disabling conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. People who don’t hear well tend to withdraw from social activities, and that can lead to depression and early mortality.
The link between HL and dementia is reinforced by statistical and brain scan studies from hearing and social neuroscience research, and backed by compelling theories for how HL promotes dementia. Dr. Frank Lin from John Hopkins Medicine has identified three primary pathways to dementia and other bad health outcomes:
1. HL increases the cognitive load on the brain. Struggling to understand speech causes the brain to focus on sound processing at the expense of memory, thinking and learning processes. Robbing Peter to pay Paul leads to a cascade of bad consequences, leaving seniors vulnerable to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Even mild HL hastens brain tissue loss and seniors with untreated hearing problems are much more susceptible to brain tissue loss than seniors with normal hearing. This is significant because the brain tissue loss occurs where memory and sensory integration are processed, causing a negative feedback loop that leaves seniors vulnerable to dementia.
3. People who can’t hear well tend to avoid social engagement. This puts them at a higher risk for becoming socially isolated, lonely and depressed—and that exposes them to a perfect storm for developing dementia and early death.
Now the good news. New research just published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society by researchers at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Bordeaux, France found that hearing aids reduce the threat of accelerated cognitive decline. The Bordeaux study revealed that elderly people with HL who used hearing aids were spared the augmented levels of cognitive decline suffered by others with HL who didn’t use hearing aids.
Social neuroscience research found similar results. Dr. Cacioppo is the director of the Center for Cognitive & Social Neuroscience and chair of the social psychology program at the University of Chicago. Decades of research inform the doctor that we are social by design. That means we are hard wired to connect with others. In fact, our need for social interaction is as fundamental as our need for food and water because the consequent social behaviors helped us survive & reproduce.
HIGHLIGHTS OF DR. CACIOPPO’S RESEARCH
• Socially connected people are more likely to have good physical health and psychological well-being.
• People with strong social networks generally live longer. They also have lower rates of anxiety and depression.
• Forming strong social bonds creates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.
• Conversely, lack of social bonding often contributes to a negative feedback loop of isolation, deep loneliness, and antisocial behavior, often leading to bad health outcomes for aging adults, including depression and dementia!
But you can’t connect with people if you can’t hear them, so it is vitally important that hearing and communication problems aren’t keeping you from a socially rewarding life.
The bottom line: Hearing empowers people to remain socially connected and social connections empower life. So, stay healthy…stay social!
Josh Korotky, Vice President, Marketing Director, Pacific Northwest Audiology, 2205 NW Shevlin Park Rd., Bend, 541-678-5592, www.pnwaudiology.com, 400+ 5-Star reviews