Hearing loss is not just an inconsequential part of aging. Hearing impairment is linked to profound physical, psychological, and social consequences: isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety, falls and other accidents, and increased mortality rate.
And–our focus here–hearing impairment is associated with accelerated cognitive decline and dementia. A large study published in 2015 showed that, even after adjusting for other factors, people with hearing loss had lower levels of cognitive functioning.
Scientists have not figured out the exact mechanism at work. Perhaps the effort it takes to process auditory signals interferes with working memory. Or it could be that hearing loss leads to isolation, which is an independent risk factor for dementia. It’s even possible that hearing loss and dementia are caused by the same mechanisms.
In any case, the earlier that hearing loss is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome.
In the meantime, public agencies and attorneys are pushing for coverage by Medicare and decreased costs for hearing aids. We all know now that hearing loss is not merely an inconvenience.
Berkeley Wellness Letter, Volume 32, Issue 15, September 2016.