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Mayo Clinic Minute: The hearing loss and dementia connection

Mayo Clinic Nov 19, 2019

Hearing loss as you age is more than just an inconvenience. Some people begin to withdraw from their social connections because not being able to hear can be frustrating and embarrassing. Dr. Colin Driscoll, a Mayo Clinic head and neck surgeon, says hearing loss also may contribute to dementia symptoms.

"We've always thought of hearing loss as just 'Ah, it's one of those things that happens as we get older,'" says Dr. Driscoll.

But he says hearing loss can start a cascade of health issues, including making symptoms of dementia worse.

"If you have hearing loss, now you're devoting more and more of your cognitive ability to trying to understand what's being said. My brain is working overtime to sort the words out and understand the sentences. So if I'm peeling away a whole bunch of my energy to apply it to the simple task of listening and understanding speech, it's not available then for my other activities. It's not causing Alzheimer disease or a structural dementia in that way, but it's leading to a change in your cognitive ability," says Dr. Driscoll.

Most hearing loss can be improved with hearing aids or cochlear implants.

"There's evidence that improving hearing will improve cognition, and there might be even more significant connections there. We know improving hearing decreases the risk of social isolation, depression—which we know are connected with falls, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease," says Dr. Driscoll.

A simple hearing test followed by proper interventions can improve your quality of life and your health.

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