Treating Hearing Loss Could Help Avoid a Path to Dementia

It’s been said that when a family member is hard of hearing, the whole family has a hearing problem. That thought can be taken to another level when people are caring for loved ones who have a multitude of other health concerns caused by hearing loss.

People who live with untreated hearing loss have an increased risk of injury, depression and dementia. According to a study conducted by the U.S. National Institute on Aging, adults 60 and older with untreated hearing loss have a 35-percent higher risk of developing dementia. “It has been hypothesized that hearing loss interferes with ‘cognitive load,’” according to Marcia Raggio, PhD, audiologist and vice chair with the California Board of Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology & Hearing Aid Dispensers Board (SLPAHAD).

Another theory is that untreated hearing loss causes social isolation or loneliness that introduces stress hormones on the central nervous system. “Social isolation has been known to create depression in elderly adults, perhaps leading to chemical changes in the brain that foster cognitive decline,” said Raggio. The lack of communication can frustrate those who are hard of hearing and their family members.

Several studies suggest that treating hearing loss could slow or reverse cognitive decline, yet only 13 to 20 percent of people who need hearing aids actually wear them, according to Raggio. “Cost is often cited as a major reason why people don’t wear hearing aids,” said Raggio. Medicare does not cover hearing aids that average $1,200 for one and $2,400 for two.

Another reason could be the stigma. A hearing aid might suggest someone is old and feeble, but technology is coming to the rescue. Drug stores across the states will soon have an array of over-the-counter hearing aids on display with prices averaging $40 to $500. These mechanisms can come in slick, discrete designs, detect falls and call emergency contacts, replicate the human vestibular system for balance, and hook up to a Bluetooth connection and pair up with a smart phone.

Raggio says, however, over-the-counter devices can’t restore hearing to normal and could lead to disappointment. She also has concerns about Food and Drug Administration language that states over-the-counter hearing aids are for mild-to-moderate hearing loss. “A moderate hearing loss is a considerable loss that I believe is best treated by those who are highly trained in the fitting of hearing aids,” said Raggio.

If you are struggling with a loved one who is hard of hearing, it’s now easier for your family to come up with a solid plan for healthy hearing. You can find resources and information on the SLPAHAD website at https://www.speechandhearing.ca.gov/. It’s always best to verify the license of an audiologist or hearing aid dispenser by visiting https://search.dca.ca.gov/.

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