Dementia

Untreated Hearing Loss Puts Overall Health at Risk

Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) CEO Nadine Dehgan’s “Treating Hearing Health for Better Overall Health” was published online to My Prime Time News following its original print appearance in The American Legion’s December 2017 issue.

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The article details how the state of the inner ear impacts other critical functions, like the heart and the brain. Cited are the various conditions that can arise as a result of untreated hearing loss, including cardiovascular disease, dementia, diabetes,  depression, and falls. When the auditory system is functioning well, however, the risk for these ailments declines.

Additionally, hearing loss is also linked to other medical conditions and drugs. People with anemia are twice as likely to have hearing loss. According to Peter Steyger, Ph.D., a scientific adviser to HHF. Further, certain cancer-fighting chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin, may permanently harm hearing.

While the relationship between hearing health and overall health is always significant, the publicity of “Treating Hearing Health for Better Overall Health” is an especially timely and helpful follow-up to ERG recipient Harrison Lin, M.D.’s new findings concerning the gaps between self-reported hearing loss and patients evaluation and treatments for hearing loss, which appeared in this month’s issue of JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery.

Individuals who believe they may have a hearing loss are encouraged to consult an audiologist or ENT, and can learn more about the relationship between hearing health and overall health in the full article on My Prime Time News.

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Protecting Your Hearing Means Protecting Your Mental Health

By Carol Stoll and Lauren McGrath

October is Protect Your Hearing Month—and, today, October 10, is World Mental Health Day, a time for mental health education, awareness, and advocacy. Hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) can increase one’s risk of developing mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and dementia, and can trigger episodes of extreme anger and suicidal ideation. Protecting one’s hearing not only prevents or delays hearing loss, but also benefits mental wellness. Understanding the signs of mental illness and having access to mental health resources is critical—and can even be life-saving—to all individuals with hearing loss or tinnitus.

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According to an April 2014 study published in JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery, 11.4% of adults with self-reported hearing impairment have moderate to severe depression, significantly higher than the 5.9% prevalence for those with typical hearing. Individuals with hearing loss have reported feeling socially inept in group settings, entering conversations at inappropriate times, talking off-topic, or dominating conversations and coming across as rude simply because talking is easier than listening. When a person cannot hear properly, engaging in conversations is a daily struggle, and can lead to social isolation and depression. Other factors that increase the risk of depression include being female, low-income, a current smoker, binge drinking, having fair or poor health status, trouble seeing, and sleep disorder. However, even controlling for these factors, those with hearing impairment still had significantly higher rates of depression than those without hearing impairment. In people 65 and older, hearing impairment is among the most common chronic conditions associated with depression.

In addition to depression, hearing loss has been linked to schizophrenia. Several studies support the social defeat hypothesis, which proposes that social exclusion and loneliness can predispose people to schizophrenia by increasing sensitization of the dopamine system. In a December 2014 study published in JAMA Psychology, participants with hearing loss reported significantly more feelings of social defeat than healthy controls. Though their psychotic symptoms were similar to the control group, exposing them to a stimulant drug showed that those with hearing loss had significantly higher than normal dopamine sensitivity. Further studies are needed to draw definite conclusions of the causation, but this research is a first step in understanding the relationship between hearing impairment, social defeat, and psychosis.

In older adults, hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline and dementia, according to a February 2013 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine and several other studies conducted at Johns Hopkins University. The scientists concluded that reduced social engagement and a cognitive load focused on coping with hearing loss rather than higher level thinking can lead to poorer cognitive functioning and faster mental decline. Hearing aids could possibly be a simple fix to increase healthy brain function in the older adult population and reduce the risk of dementia.

Exposure to noise often results in tinnitus instead of or in addition to hearing loss, which can also contribute to a range of psychological disorders. Tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people in the U.S., and causes permanent ringing in the ears. Though research for therapies is ongoing, there is currently no cure. Without therapy, constant ringing in the ears can be debilitating; it can affect job performance, cause insomnia, and provoke fear, anxiety, and anger. This can lead to depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and can exasperate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Compromised hearing is an invisible disability, often unnoticed or ignored even by those affected. However, hearing loss and tinnitus are widespread and can have serious psychological repercussions. Hearing loss caused by noise exposure is completely preventable by taking simple measures like turning down the volume on your earbuds and using hearing protective devices in loud situations. Regular hearing screenings can also help detect hearing issues early on. Talk to your audiologist about best ways to treat or manage your hearing impairment. Find help for mental illnesses here.

Per the National Institute of Mental Health: "If you are in crisis, and need immediate support or intervention, call, or go the website of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Voice: 1-800-273-8255 or TTY: 1-800-799-4889). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals. If the situation is potentially life-threatening, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room.”

Receive updates on life-changing hearing research and resources by subscribing to HHF's free quarterly magazine and e-newsletter.

 
 
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The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia

By Alycia Gordan

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June is Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness Month and Hearing Health Foundation would like to shine light on the effects untreated hearing loss can have on our brains and memory. Hearing loss is often linked with dementia, and research is being conducted to establish the exact link between the two. Evidence suggests that by treating hearing loss, the risk of dementia can be mitigated.

Dementia is a medical term that is used to describe a host of symptoms, characterized by a deterioration in a patient’s cognitive abilities. The degeneration of brain cells causes neurons to stop functioning, leading to a series of dysfunctions.

A person may have dementia if at least two of his mental faculties are affected: the loss of memory and focus; difficulty communicating; short or interrupted attention spans; impaired judgment; or an inability to perform everyday tasks.

Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of otolaryngology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, conducted a study in 2011 in which the mental abilities of 639 cognitively stable individuals were supervised regularly for 12 to 18 years. The results indicated that volunteers with normal hearing were much less susceptible to acquiring dementia while those with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss were two, three, and five times more susceptible to the disorder, respectively.

Another study conducted by Lin in 2013 involved observing the cognitive abilities of 1,984 older adults over six years. The research concluded that older adults with hearing loss tended to experience 30 to 40 percent accelerated cognitive dysfunction and were at a higher risk of developing dementia.

What Is the Cause?

Since the exact link between hearing loss and dementia is still a mystery, there are theories about how the former may aggravate the latter.

One of the theories suggests that if the brain struggles to cope with degraded sounds, its resources are allocated to processing these sounds and this “cognitive load” causes a decrease in overall cognitive functioning. Moreover, hearing loss accelerates atrophy in the cerebrum which is not exclusive to processing sound as it also plays a role in memory. In addition, it is speculated that social isolation that results from hearing loss causes stress and depression and exacerbates cognitive deterioration.

What Is the Solution?

Not many studies have been conducted to check the influence of treating hearing loss for treating dementia. However, the studies that have been conducted so far do provide considerable hope.

One way to improve profound hearing loss is receiving cochlear implants. French researcher Isabelle Mosnier, M.D., of the Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris, evaluated the effect of cochlear implants on cognitive functioning in 94 elderly people who had profound deafness (in at least one ear).

Mosnier found that hearing rehabilitation improved not only cognitive functioning of the elderly, but their speech perception as well.

The most direct link between auditory impairment and memory loss is the brain. Thus, any stimulus that helps the brain remain alert will keep the person active too. Hence, researchers are considering the use of music therapy to restore cognitive functions in people who suffer from memory loss.           

Concetta Tomaino, a cofounder of the Institute for Music and Neurological Function, found that music stimulates parts of the brain made inactive by dementia. In a pilot study, music therapy sessions were conducted with 45 individuals with chronic dementia and the results showed that neurological and cognitive abilities improved significantly for those in the music group.

This research shows there are techniques that can aid individuals with dementia and hearing loss. If you or a loved one has hearing problems, please see a hearing health professional to get a hearing test in order to potentially prevent future cognitive issues. 

Alycia Gordan writes for Brain Blog.

Receive updates on life-changing hearing research and resources by subscribing to HHF's free quarterly magazine and e-newsletter.

 
 
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8 Reasons to Put a Hearing Test at the Top of Your To-Do List

By Better Hearing Institute

Of all the life hacks for better living, taking care of your hearing is among the smartest and most economical.

From pilfering away at your relationships and quality of life, to putting you at risk for other health conditions, untreated hearing loss is a silent thief. Here are eight reasons why you should get a hearing test today.

 

  1. It may help your pocketbook. A study by the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) shows that using hearing aids reduces the risk of income loss by 90 to 100 percent for those with milder hearing loss, and from 65 to 77 percent for those with severe to moderate hearing loss, and lost as much as $30,000 annually.
     

  2. Your mind may benefit. Research shows a link between hearing loss and dementia. Leading experts to believe that addressing hearing loss may at least help protect cognitive function.
     

  3. It could boost your job performance. Most hearing aid users say it has helped their performance on the job. That's right. Getting a hearing test could benefit all those employees (a whopping 30 percent) who suspect they have hearing loss but haven't sought treatment.
     

  4. Life’s challenges may not seem so intimidating. Research shows people with hearing loss who use hearing aids are more likely to tackle problems actively. Apparently, hearing your best brings greater confidence.
     

  5. Your zest for life might get zestier. Most people who use hearing aids say it has a positive effect on their relationships. They’re more likely to have a strong social network, be optimistic, feel engaged in life, and even get more pleasure in doing things.
     

  6. It could protect you against the blues. Hearing loss is linked to a greater risk of depression in adults, especially 18 to 69-year-olds.
     

  7. You’ll probably be more likely to get the drift. The majority who bought their hearing aids within the past five years say they’re pleased with their ability to hear in the workplace, at home with family members, in conversations in small and large groups, when watching TV with others, in lecture halls, theaters or concert halls, when riding in a car, and even when trying to follow conversations in the presence of noise.
     

  8. Your heart and health may benefit. Some experts say the inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it’s possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body.

So do it for your health. Do it for your happiness. Get a hearing test.

To take a free, quick, and confidential online hearing check to help determine if you need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing health care professional, visit www.BetterHearing.org

The content for this blog post originated in a press release issued by The Better Hearing Institute.

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Hearing Aid Use Is Associated with Improved Cognitive Function in Hearing-Impaired Elderly

By Columbia University Medical Center

A study conducted by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) found that older adults who used a hearing aid performed significantly better on cognitive tests than those who did not use a hearing aid, despite having poorer hearing.

The study was published online in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

The researchers also found that cognitive function was directly related to hearing ability in participants who did not use a hearing aid.

More than half of adults over age 75 have hearing loss, yet less than 15 percent of the hearing impaired use a hearing aid device. Previous studies have shown that the hearing-impaired elderly have a higher incidence of fall- and accident-related death, social isolation, and dementia than those without hearing loss. Studies have also demonstrated that hearing aid use can improve the social, functional, and emotional consequences of hearing loss.

“We know that hearing aids can keep older adults with hearing loss more socially engaged by providing an important bridge to the outside world,” said Anil K. Lalwani, MD, professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery at Columbia and otolaryngologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/CUMC and NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “In this study, we wanted to determine if they could also slow the effects of aging on cognitive function.”

The study included 100 adults with hearing loss between the ages of 80 and 99. Of the participants, 34 regularly used a hearing aid. Audiometry tests were performed to measure the degree of hearing loss. Cognitive function was evaluated by the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), in which participants give vocal responses to verbal commands. Executive function was also assessed with the Trail Making Test, Part B (TMT-B), which does not have a verbal or auditory component.

Hearing aid users, who had worse hearing than non-users, performed significantly (1.9 points) better on the MMSE. Among non-users, participants with more hearing loss also had lower MMSE scores than those with better hearing. Although hearing aid users performed better than non-users on the TMT-B, the difference was not statistically significant. In addition, TMT-B scores were not correlated with hearing level.

“Our study suggests that using a hearing aid may offer a simple, yet important, way to prevent or slow the development of dementia by keeping adults with hearing loss engaged in conversation and communication,” said Dr. Lalwani.

This blog was reposted with the permission of Columbia University Medical Center

Anil K. Lalwani, M.D. is the Head of Hearing Health Foundation's Council of Scientific Trustees and sits on our Board of Directors

We need your help in funding the exciting work of hearing and balance scientists.

To donate today to support HHF's groundbreaking research,

please visit hhf.org/donate.

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How Hearing Loss Affects Other Aspects of Your Health

By Patricia Sarmiento

A few years ago, my dad began experiencing hearing loss. He worked in loud factories all his life. And while in recent years he began wearing ear protection, I think there were many days on the job where he didn’t use any. As he grew older, all that time without ear protection took its toll.

Prior to his experiences with hearing loss, I must admit that I didn’t know much about it. As he began going through the necessary steps, like getting fitted for hearing aids, I began to look into how hearing loss can affect our overall health. Here’s what I found:

Falls: This was my first area of concern when my dad’s hearing loss was diagnosed. I knew that our ears play an important role in our balance. However, I was surprised to see how significantly one’s chances of falling increased with their hearing loss. WhittierHearing.com cites a study that found that even just mild hearing loss meant you were “three times more likely to have a history of falling.” Of course, the older someone is the more dangerous these falls can be. My dad was lucky in that his hearing loss didn’t ever seem to affect him in this way. But if you have a loved one who has fallen or is experiencing balance issues, get their hearing checked!

Depression. We actually began suspecting that my dad was experiencing hearing loss long before he began seeking treatment for it. I think he was simply too proud to admit that he was having problems. We had to repeat ourselves to him and sometimes at family gatherings he would withdraw altogether. It was when he stopped going to his weekly Men’s Breakfast at our church that we knew something was going on.

While my dad received treatment before his hearing loss really began to take a toll on his mental health, I can definitely see how it could lead to depression. People experiencing hearing loss may experience poorer quality of life, isolation and reduced social activity.

Dementia. Through my research, I found out that in older adults there is a connection between hearing loss and dementia and Alzheimer’s. Those with mild hearing impairment are nearly twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those with normal hearing. The risk increases three-fold for those with moderate hearing loss, and five-fold for those with severe impairment. It isn’t yet clear what causes the connection, but the article says some researchers believe it may result from those with hearing loss straining “to decode sounds,” which may take its toll on the brain.

So, what can you do to protect your hearing? I’d like to suggest going for a swim. Here’s why: This guide on swimming and heart health notes what an excellent cardiovascular and full body workout swimming can be. That’s important because there have been many studies showing a connection between heart health and hearing. Yet another reason to be sure you’re getting plenty of exercise!

Patricia Sarmiento loves swimming and running. She channels her love of fitness and wellness into blogging about health and health-related topics. She played sports in high school and college and continues to make living an active lifestyle a goal for her and her family. She lives with her husband, two children, and their Shih Tzu in Maryland.

See our Hearing Health story, “Have a Hearing Loss, Have Another Health Issue?” for more information about health conditions associated with hearing loss.

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Getting a Hearing Test May Be Good for Your Memory

By the Better Hearing Institute

If you want to help your memory and cognitive performance, you may want to get a hearing test and treat hearing loss. In response to a growing body of research that shows a link between unaddressed hearing loss and cognitive function, the Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) and the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) are encouraging people to get their hearing checked by a healthcare professional in recognition of World Alzheimer’s Month in September.


According to Brandeis University Professor of Neuroscience, Dr. Arthur Wingfield, who has been studying cognitive aging and the relationship between memory and hearing acuity for many years, effortful listening due to unaddressed hearing loss is associated with increased stress and poorer performance on memory tests.
 
His research shows that even when people with unaddressed hearing loss perceive the words that are being spoken, their ability to remember the information suffers—likely because of the draw on their cognitive resources that might otherwise be used to store what has been heard in memory. This is especially true for the comprehension of quick, informationally complex speech that is part of everyday life.
 
“Even if you have just a mild hearing loss that is not being treated, cognitive load increases significantly,” Wingfield said. “You have to put in so much effort just to perceive and understand what is being said that you divert resources away from storing what you have heard into your memory.”
 
How hearing loss affects cognitive function
Our ears and auditory system bring sound to the brain. But we actually “hear” with our brain, not with our ears.
 
According to Wingfield, unaddressed hearing loss not only affects the listener’s ability to perceive the sound accurately, but it also affects higher-level cognitive function. Specifically, it interferes with the listener’s ability to accurately process the auditory information and make sense of it.
 
In one study, Wingfield and his co-investigators found that older adults with mild to moderate hearing loss performed poorer on cognitive tests of memory than those of the same age who had good hearing.
 
In another study, Wingfield and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University in St. Louis used MRI to look at the effect that hearing loss has on both brain activity and structure. The study found that people with poorer hearing had less gray matter in the auditory cortex, a region of the brain that is necessary to support speech comprehension.
 
Wingfield has suggested the possibility that the participant’s hearing loss had a causal role. He and his co-investigators hypothesize that when the sensory stimulation is reduced due to hearing loss, corresponding areas of the brain reorganize their activity as a result.
 
“The sharpness of an individual’s hearing has cascading consequences for various aspects of cognitive function,” said Wingfield. “We’re only just beginning to understand how far-reaching these consequences are.”
 
As people move through middle age and their later years, Wingfield suggested, it is reasonable for them to get their hearing tested annually. If there is a hearing loss, it is best to take it seriously and treat it.
 
Hearing loss and dementia

A number of studies have come to light over the last few years showing a link between hearing loss and dementia.  Specifically, a pair of studies out of Johns Hopkins found that hearing loss is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older adults and that seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing. 
 
A third Johns Hopkins study revealed a link between hearing loss and accelerated brain tissue loss. The researchers found that for older adults with hearing loss, brain tissue loss happens faster than it does for those with normal hearing.
 
Some experts believe that interventions, like hearing aids, could potentially delay or prevent dementia. Research is ongoing
 
Staying connected

A number of studies indicate that maintaining strong social connections and keeping mentally active as we age might lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association website.
 
Interestingly, BHI research shows that people with hearing difficulty who use hearing aids are more likely to have a strong support network of family and friends, feel engaged in life, and meet up with friends to socialize. They even say that using hearing aids has a positive effect on their relationships.

For more information about hearing health and finding a healthcare professional, please visit: http://hearinghealthfoundation.org/find-a-hearing-health-professional.

The content for this blog post originated in a press release issued by The Better Hearing Institute on September 8, 2015.

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Men's Health and Hearing Health are Linked

By Laura Friedman

Hearing health affects so many aspects of a man’s life that routine hearing tests should be part of a healthy lifestyle. Hearing Health Foundation and Better Hearing Institute (BHI) which are encouraging hearing tests during Men’s Health Month in June and Men’s Health Week (June 15-21). Addressing hearing loss can help men safeguard their wellbeing and quality of life. And new research shows that people with hearing loss who use hearing aids enjoy a better overall quality of life and are more likely to be optimistic, have a strong social network, tackle problems actively, and feel engaged in life. At the same time, an increasing number of studies are showing a link between hearing loss and other health conditions.

Men are more likely to suffer from hearing loss than women. But luckily, the vast majority of people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. In fact, most people who currently wear hearing aids say it not only helps their overall ability to communicate effectively in most situations, but it also has a positive effect on their relationships. Most hearing aid users in the workforce even say it has helped their performance on the job.

Other research shows that addressing hearing loss can help protect your earnings. One study showed that the use of hearing aids reduced the risk of income loss dramatically—by 90-100% for those with milder hearing loss, and from 65 -77% for those whose hearing loss was severe to moderate.

What’s more, people with hearing difficulty who use hearing aids get more pleasure in doing things and are even more likely to exercise and meet up with friends to socialize!

Men who want to maintain a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle should know that new technological advances have revolutionized hearing aids in recent years. Today’s hearing aids can automatically adjust to all kinds of sound environments and filter out noise. Many are virtually invisible, sitting discreetly and comfortably inside the ear canal. Some are even waterproof, and others are rechargeable. Best of all, many are wireless, so you can stream sound from smartphones, home entertainment systems and other electronics directly into your hearing aid(s) at volumes just right for you.

5 Men’s Health Motivators for Getting a Hearing Test:

  1. Your hearing may say something about your heart. Cardiovascular and hearing health are linked. Some experts say the inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it’s possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body.

  2. Hearing loss is about twice as common in people with diabetes. Studies show that people with diabetes are about twice as likely to have hearing loss. When broken down by age, one study showed that those 60 and younger are at greater risk.

  3. Addressing hearing loss may benefit cognitive function. Research shows a link between hearing loss and dementia, leading experts to believe that interventions, like hearing aids, could potentially delay or prevent dementia. Research is ongoing.

  4. Hearing loss is tied to sleep apnea. Research shows that sleep apnea is significantly associated with hearing loss at both high and low frequencies. Findings suggest that sleep apnea is a systemic disease and is associated with an increased risk of hearing loss, along with a number of diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

  5. Hearing loss is tied to depression. Studies show that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of depression in adults of all ages, but is most pronounced in 18 to 69 year olds. Research also shows that the use of hearing aids reduces depressive symptoms.

BHI and HHF are encouraging men of all ages to take a free, quick, and confidential online hearing check at BetterHearing.org to help determine if they need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional.

The content for this blog post originated in a press release issued by The Better Hearing Institute on June 3, 2015. 

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6 Facts Every Woman Should Know About Hearing Health

By Laura Friedman

National Women’s Health Week may only last a week (May 10-16, 2015), but women’s health is a year-round issue. A growing body of research shows an association between hearing loss, quality of life, and a number of common chronic diseases and health conditions.

In the United States today, as many as one-third of women in their 50s have some degree of hearing loss, along with nearly two-thirds of women in their 60s. The findings of a 2008 study also suggest that the prevalence of hearing loss among younger adults, specifically among those in their 20s and 30s, is increasing. Fortunately, for the vast majority of people with hearing loss, hearing aids can help.

For many years, experts have known the positive impact that addressing hearing loss has on quality of life. Research shows that many people with hearing loss who use hearing aids see an improvement in their ability to hear in many settings; and many see an improvement in their relationships at home and at work, in their social lives, and in their ability to communicate effectively in most situations. Many even say they feel better about themselves.

In honor of National Women’s Health Week, we are sharing 6 Facts Every Woman Should Know About Hearing Health from The Better Hearing Institute:

  1. Women with hearing loss are more likely to be depressed. Research shows that hearing loss is associated with depression among U.S. adults, but particularly among women.

  2. The ear may be a window to the heart. Cardiovascular and hearing health are linked. Some experts say the inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it’s possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, according to the American Heart Association.

  3. If you have diabetes, you’re about twice as likely to have hearing loss. What’s more, having diabetes may cause women to experience a greater degree of hearing loss as they age, especially if the diabetes is not well controlled with medication. About 11% of women in the United States are affected by diabetes.

  4. Many of the same lifestyle behaviors that affect the heart impact hearing. More evidence of the interconnectedness between cardiovascular and hearing health is found in three studies on modifiable behaviors: One found that a higher level of physical activity is associated with lower risk of hearing loss in women. Another revealed that smokers and passive smokers are more likely to suffer hearing loss. And a third found that regular fish consumption and higher intake of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are associated with lower risk of hearing loss in women.

  5. Hearing loss in women is tied to common pain relievers. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are associated with an increased risk of hearing loss in women. The link is even stronger among those younger than 50.

  6. Addressing hearing loss may benefit cognitive function. Research shows a link between hearing loss and dementia, which leads experts to believe that interventions, like hearing aids, could potentially delay or prevent dementia. Research is ongoing.

HI and HHF are encouraging women of all ages to take a free, quick, and confidential online hearing check at BetterHearing.org to help determine if they need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional.

The content for this blog post originated in a press release issued by The Better Hearing Institute on May 8, 2015. 

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Your Brain Is a Muscle: Use It or Lose It

By Sloan Blanton

Brain Awareness Week (March 16-22, 2015) celebrates one of the most important organs in the human body and current progress and breakthroughs in brain research. While the brain literally affects every organ and bodily function, did you know hearing loss, especially when it goes untreated, can affect brain function and size? It can also affect quality of life. Depression rates are higher for those with hearing loss, as is the likelihood of emotional issues, such as anger and withdrawal, which can lead to poor mental health.

I was born with a sensorineural hearing loss in both ears so it is all that I have ever known. While I sometimes feel socially isolated because I am not always able to follow the conversations around me, and I also know my speech development has been directly affected by my hearing loss, my cogitative ability has been in no way impaired. However, several studies have found a correlation between aging, cognitive function, and hearing loss. For a long time, many researchers believed the two to be unrelated, but recent findings have proven otherwise.

From 2001 to 2007, the Health, Aging, and Body Composition study tested the hearing and cognitive abilities of nearly 2,000 adults between ages 75-84. In the study, those with hearing impairment lost cognitive abilities up to 40% more quickly than typical-hearing participants. Additionally, participants with hearing loss developed cognitive issues on average three years sooner than those with typical hearing.

Numerous theories dive into the relation between the brain and hearing loss, such as that the brain must work harder to process sounds when there is an inability to hear, which then takes the brain’s attention away from other cognitive functions. "We take for granted that processing sound is simple, but for the brain it's very energy intensive," Dr. Frank Lin, the assistant professor conducting the study, reported. "The most powerful computers in the world are no match for the sound-processing capabilities of the brain of a 3-year-old child."

The decline of cognitive ability impairs other brain functions, such as thinking and memory retention. Social isolation resulting from hearing loss can put the elderly at greater risk for dementia and other cognitive impairments. "It's early days yet, but we have seen that if you take an adult with typical hearing and put her in an MRI scanner while listening to garbled speech, the scans reveal that the brain has to spend extra energy to decode it," says researcher Jonathan Peelle.

In 2014, Neurolmage published Lin’s study on hearing loss possibly causing the brain to atrophy, like an unused muscle. Those who have had hearing loss for at least seven years or longer tended to have brains with small temporal lobes, making short- and long-term memory and processing meaning from sensory input difficult.

According to Healthy Hearing, a deeper understanding of hearing loss, both its causes and its effects, is crucial. The hope is that individuals with age-related hearing loss could benefit from cognitive and perceptual training exercises, and thus can have an improved quality of life. That includes better physical health, better mental health, improved relationships, and the ability to continue to engage in society. To make sure you're receiving the best care and are living the highest quality life possible, make an appointment with your hearing healthcare professional for your annual checkup; more than just your hearing will benefit.

Watch out for the “Break the Stigma” issue of Hearing Health Magazine this spring, which will include research on how addressing, and then treating, hearing loss leads to happier, healthier outcomes. If you're not already a subscriber to the FREE magazine, subscribe here.

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