Hearing Loss and Dementia
“Straining to Hear and Fend off Dementia” (New York Times, Health/Science, February 11, 2013), brings light to the idea that people straining to hear have cognitive overload. Katherine Bouton, HLAA member and author of the article has a hearing loss and is age 65. Her article is adapted from her new book Shouting Won’t Help: Why I—and 50 Million Other Americans—Can’t Hear You.
Frank Lin, M.D., Ph. D., an otolaryngologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine says the brain is so preoccupied with translating the sounds into words that it seems to have no processing power left to search through the storerooms of memory for a response.
In a 2011 paper in The Archives of Neurology, Dr. Lin and colleagues found a strong association between the hearing loss and dementia. The researchers looked at 639 subjects, ranging in age at the beginning of the study from 36 to 90 (with the majority between 60 and 80).
“Compared to individuals with normal hearing, those individuals with a mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss, respectively, had a two, three and five-fold increased risk of developing dementia over the course of the study,” Dr. Lin wrote in an email summarizing the results.
In an interview, Dr. Lin discussed some possible explanations for the association.
- Isolation, which might come with hearing loss, a known risk factor for dementia.
- Cognitive load
- Some pathological process that causes both hearing loss and dementia.
Bouton writes that if it can be proved in a clinical trial that hearing aids help delay or offset dementia, the benefits would be immeasurable.
How can we help?
Educating our staff members by reading hearing aid manuals and seeking further clarification as needed from medical professionals is a wonderful way to serve our residents. We strive to educate our staff on how to:
- Assist residents with putting the aid in properly with special attention to the earmold
- Adjust the settings
- Change batteries
- Cleaning and other maintenance of the components themselves
- Perform basic troubleshooting (example: ask the resident a question or call their name from behind them to see if they respond)
Our staff also keeps in contact with resident’s audiologists for updates and clarification on these topics.
In addition to this, there are simple things our staff do daily to make sure the hearing aids are functioning properly before they are put in the ears. Daily checks only take minutes and are a part of the daily routine of checking in on residents. These checks include a thorough inspection in accordance with that resident’s Care Plan.
We believe it’s our responsibility to be advocates for our residents and families. Sometimes the simplest tasks make the biggest differences.
Jodi L. Guffee
Chief Operating Officer
Radiant Senior Living