By Kate Dupuis
Kate Dupuis, Schlegel Innovation Leader in Arts and Aging at the Centre for Elder Research, Sheridan College
If you’re 65 or older, chances are you may have started noticing changes in your hearing: people mumbling when they talk, or needing to crank up the radio and television.
Hearing loss as we age is common. But did you know that it’s also a risk factor for dementia? In a recent Lancet report which summarized nine key risk factors for dementia, hearing loss was ranked second on the list. The study found that addressing mid-life hearing loss alone could reduce the risk of dementia by nine per cent. Combined with other modifiable risk factors, the risk reduction potential is significant.
And it’s not just one study—a growing body of evidence emphasizes the importance of hearing health as a key component of healthy aging. Large-scale research projects conducted in the U.S., France, Australia and other countries have shown that hearing loss is a major risk factor for dementia. While we don’t fully understand the reasons for this connection, one hypothesis is that hearing loss can put people at risk for social isolation and depression, both of which can heighten the chances of developing dementia.
So, what should you do if you’re experiencing hearing loss? Talk to your family doctor, especially if you have a family history of dementia. He or she can refer you to an audiologist who will conduct a hearing test, take your hearing health history, and discuss any other difficulties you may be having with listening and communication. Your audiologist may also be able to recommend specific hearing devices to help you hear, better.
Finding out that you are a candidate for hearing aids is not always welcome news, and this solution is not for everyone. There may be other options available to you. Some of these include listening devices like an amplified telephone, or getting into the habit of asking others to speak more slowly or face you when talking. Making some simple changes in your home and in your surroundings is another option: Sit with your back to the other tables in a noisy restaurant; turn off the radio or loud appliances when speaking with a family member.
Hearing better can help you maintain an active social life. Better hearing also means you can live more independently, participate in important health-care decisions, and stay tuned into the world around you!
Read more about how to reduce your risk of dementia at alzheimer.ca/riskfactors.