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Staying Connected, Socially and Technologically

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LEXINGTON Untreated hearing loss in older adults is a growing national epidemic. While the increase in hearing loss is troubling in itself, the ramifications of untreated hearing loss potentially reaches further than an inability to communicate and interact within ones environment. Such inability can cause a much deeper issue, as more and more studies are showing alarming trends with the association between hearing loss and dementia in older adults.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one-third of Americans between ages 65 and 74 and nearly half of Americans over the age of 75 have hearing loss1. Discouragingly, only 20% of those who could benefit from treatment actually seek help2. With the ‘baby boom’ generation reaching this age range within the next 20 years, the number of adults with hearing loss is expected to increase dramatically. According to recent studies, this could produce disturbing results.

A recently released John Hopkins study followed 639 individuals who initially underwent cognitive and hearing testing between 1990 and 1994. They were followed for the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease through May of 2008. The study found that those who suffered from hearing loss at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop dementia, and the greater the hearing loss, the more chance there was. A noticeable trend for Alzheimer’s was evident too. For every 10 decibels of hearing lost, the extra likelihood of development of dementia increased by 20 percent. The risk was worst for those participants who were aged 60 or older, with 36 percent of the dementia risk recorded as being associated with the hearing loss3.

A similar study of 1,984 individuals in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that hearing loss is independently associated with accelerated cognitive decline and incident cognitive impairment in community-dwelling older adults. It was discovered that people who suffer from hearing loss would typically experience a loss of memory and thinking capabilities an estimated 40 percent faster than those who have no hearing problems4.

These studies raise the question of why the two are associated with one another. Social isolation that results from hearing loss is a common theory. Communication plays a critical role in ensuring independence, stimulating thinking, maintaining social networks, enhancing well being, facilitating adaptation to change, and participation in activities of life. As a communication disorder, hearing loss can lead to isolation – which can lead to loneliness, depression, cognitive decline, and is a known risk factor of dementia. Social connection is crucial to maintaining health and a sense of well-being, which is threatened in adults with hearing loss due to a lack of independence and mobility.

While the association between the two has yet to be solidified, one fact is certain, early identification and treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids and other technology is key in an attempt to curb any adverse effects to one’s cognitive state. A 1999 study by the National Council on Aging reported that untreated hearing loss in older persons can have a significant negative impact on quality of life, including a higher likelihood of depression, anxiety, and paranoia to those who wore hearing aids5. Hearing loss can be treated through current technology with not only the help of hearing aids, but also amplification phones and other Bluetooth technology.

Lexington Hearing & Speech Center (LHSC) is a quality healthcare provider for persons of all ages, providing hearing and speech services last year to over 1,000 individuals from 69 counties across the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Founded in 1960 as an educational and healthcare provider for children with hearing loss, LHSC audiologists at the Lexington Hearing & Speech Center’s Audiology clinic now provide comprehensive hearing healthcare for persons of all ages. LHSC employs four doctors of audiology to provide the quality of service our community deserves. With a new, bigger location in the heart of Lexington at 350 Henry Clay Blvd., LHSC is able to provide even more services to the Commonwealth.

As the previously discussed studies are now showing, hearing loss should be included in a physician’s medical model when treating adults with potential cognitive health issues, like dementia. With the information available today about the association between dementia and hearing loss, it is ever important for physicians to discuss hearing with patients and to be proactive in addressing any possible hearing decline. If hearing loss could impact treatment of any physician’s patient, a direct referral to LHSC for a complete audiometric hearing evaluation is recommended.

The make-up of the test battery is determined by the patient’s individual needs and is designed to assess specific symptoms and their causes. LHSC audiologists help the patient and their family understand the test results from their hearing evaluation, the impact of any hearing loss, and recommend appropriate steps for further management, including advice on how to stay connected with their environment with the most appropriate technology.

The professionals at Lexington Hearing & Speech Center are committed to providing excellent hearing healthcare in our community, and strive to ensure that no one becomes defined by their communication delay or disorder.

1 “Quick statistics”. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. June, 2010. Nov. 2013.

2 Oyler, Anne l., AuD, CCC-A. “Untreated Hearing Loss in Adults—A Growing National Epidemic”. American SpeechLanguage-Hearing Association. Nov. 2013.

3 F. R. Lin, E. J. Metter, R. J. O’Brien, Ferrucci. “Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia”. Archives of Neurology, 68. 2 (2011): 214. Jama. Web. Nov. 2013.

4 Frank R. Lin, MD, PhD; Kristine Yaffe, MD; Jin Xia, MS; Qian-Li Xue, PhD; Tamara B. Harris, MD, MS; Elizabeth Purchase-Helzner, PhD; Suzanne Satterfield, MD, DrPH; Hilsa N. Ayonayon, PhD; Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PhD; Eleanor M. Simonsick, PhD; for the Health ABC Study Group. “Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults”. Jama Intern Med.173. 4 (2013):293-299. JAMA.Web. Nov. 2013.

5 Kochkin, S. PhD, & Rogin, C.,MA. “Quantifying the obvious: The impact of hearing instruments on quality of life”. Hearing Review. Jan. 2000. Better Hearing Institute. Nov. 2013