Ignoring Hearing Loss Can Dramatically Increase Likelihood of Dementia

Q. I am convinced that my mom is experiencing hearing loss. I find myself repeating things I say and shouting just so she’ll hear me. She also turns the TV up so loud that I can hear it on the other side of the house! I think she could be in denial about her hearing loss because when I broach the topic, she quickly changes the subject. It’s causing frustration and a strain on our relationship.

I know she is very sensitive to the stigma of a hearing aid and thinks that hearing loss only occurs in older people. However, I want to persuade her to get help, because I read that ignoring hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia. Is this true, and what can I do if my efforts to persuade her to get a hearing test (pun intended) fall on deaf ears?

A.When it comes to hearing difficulties, many people don’t realize they have a problem — or they deny it. This is unfortunate because studies do show that hearing loss can have a more negative impact on quality of life than obesity, diabetes, strokes, or even cancer. Yet hearing loss is often ignored. In fact, more people report having gotten colonoscopies than hearing tests. What better time to address the magnitude of the issue of hearing loss than National Better Hearing Month, which occurs every May!

The Stigma of Losing Your Hearing

Contrary to what many people believe, hearing loss doesn’t only affect older people. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss. And that number is increasing with the use of loud speakers and earbuds.

Still there is the stigma that hearing loss only affects older people. And, because of this stigma, the average older adult waits seven to 10 years to get a hearing device. Moreover, only 20% to 30% of all adults who could benefit from a hearing solution end up getting one. Unfortunately, ignoring hearing loss can dramatically increase the likelihood that we will develop dementia, among other things!

Dangerous Consequences of Hearing Loss

In a recent study, Johns Hopkins followed 639 adults for almost 12 years and discovered that people with mild hearing loss had double the dementia risk; those with moderate hearing loss had triple the risk; and those with severe hearing impairment were 5 times more likely to develop dementia.

To reiterate, even those with MILD hearing loss have double the risk of developing dementia. The worse your hearing loss, the higher your risk of dementia. This should be a wake-up call to anyone who chooses to ignore their hearing problems.

In addition, researchers discovered that people with hearing loss were more likely to experience problems with walking and they fell more often. It may put you in harm’s way, too, increasing your risk of getting injured in a variety of situations, including at work and while driving. Addressing hearing loss is a serious issue.

Why Does Hearing Loss Contribute to Dementia?

According to the research from Johns Hopkins, brain scans show us that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain, which could lead to dementia. The other reason is that hearing loss can lead to isolation, which has been associated with poorer health, including higher rates of dementia.

Can Hearing Aids Really Make a Difference?

The researchers at Johns Hopkins are in the process of studying whether the use of hearing aids can reduce the risk of dementia. Whether or not they do, researchers say that “there is no downside to using hearing aids.” They benefit the majority of people who use them and they make it easier for you to stay engaged with your friends and family.

Researchers in France also studied a group of 94 people between the ages of 65 and 85 who had profound deafness in at least one ear. They gave them cochlear implants along with auditory rehabilitation twice a week. Impressively, over 80% of the people with the lowest cognitive scores showed marked improvement after one year. In fact, the improvement was almost twice that seen with any of the current medications which have been approved by the FDA for treating Alzheimer’s.

Hearing Aids Can be Expensive

Today’s hearing aids are small and are often unnoticeable. They can improve your relationships with the people you love and most people adjust well to them after the breaking-in period. It takes a little time for your central auditory system and brain to adjust to one, so it is important that you not give up too soon. After that, they can be life-changing.

But, hearing aids can be quite expensive. Good quality hearing aids can cost $2,000 to $7,000 — and traditional Medicare plans don’t cover them.

The expense is a major reason why many people do not get them. In the past, we did an article on ways to pay for hearing aids and the status of Medicare covering them. Please read this article for more details.

How to Convince You Mother to Get Her Hearing Checked

If the fear of an increased risk of dementia doesn’t compel your mother to get her hearing checked out and problems addressed, changing your approach could be beneficial. Here are some strategies that could work:

1. Show your respect and concern

Trying to hear when you have a problem can be exhausting, frustrating, and at times humiliating. So, when you raise the topic of a hearing test, be compassionate. Speak normally but a bit slower, and don’t switch too rapidly from one topic to another.

2. Introduce her to others who are coping well with hearing aids

Introduce your mom to people who are coping well with their hearing aids. They can provide a realistic picture of what to expect, what worked for them, and how good it feels to easily hear what’s going on in the world.

3. Don’t be an enabler

You’ve probably been repeating and explaining things for so long that you don’t even realize you’ve become an enabler, acting as your mom’s personal hearing device. Unfortunately, this just causes your mom to continue to put off needed treatment.

4. Go with her and have your hearing tested too.

If your mom’s hearing loss has impacted you so much that you want to help her address it, chances are you understand the importance of seeing a auditory specialist and acting on hearing loss early. Even if you don’t think you have hearing loss yourself, you can never truly be sure until you get your hearing tested. Hearing loss happens over time, and you might not even notice it in the beginning.

If you go and get your hearing tested alongside your mom, it might help your mom feel more comfortable with the process. Plus, this will hopefully help her see that you’re truly dedicated to her happiness and wellbeing.

5. Don’t be the only voice that speaks up.

It’s hard to convince someone that they need a hearing test if you’re the only one saying so. Recruit other friends and family members to help you in your cause. Ask them to repeat and support the reasons your mom should make an appointment. Ideally, your mom will be touched by the way everyone around her is looking out for her best interests and agree to get a hearing test.

Planning for the Future

We hope your mother takes care of her hearing issues, and it improves her quality of life and lessens her risk for dementia! While you are reminding your mother to get her hearing tested, please remind her to plan for her future and her loved ones, if she hasn’t done so already.

At the Farr Law Firm, we help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. Please call us any time to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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