Get Your Hearing Checked. It May Reduce Your Risk of Dementia.
Did you know hearing is strongly connected with brain health and function? As we age, it’s common for hearing to decline, and research strongly suggests that a decline in hearing is also associated with a decline in cognitive function.1 In fact, hearing loss is considered a modifiable risk factor for dementia. In fact, hearing loss is considered a modifiable risk factor for dementia. This means that although hearing loss increases one’s risk of dementia, there are things we can do to modify or reduce that risk.
How Hearing is Connected to the Brain
The process of hearing involves pressure waves that travel through the ear and stimulate tiny hair cells in the inner ear which translate those waves into signals the brain can interpret. These signals travel directly to the auditory cortex of the brain where we then process the pressure waves from our ears into sounds that we register in our minds. Thus, when our ability to process sounds is impaired, it has direct implications on the brain.
It is thought that hearing loss can contribute to cognitive decline because the parts of the brain involved in hearing have to work extra hard to decipher the signals they receive from our ears, which means other parts of the brain involved in memory and learning have reduced activity.2 Some also believe that the combination of hearing loss and cognitive decline leads to more decline in overall brain function, including brain shrinking.2
Age-related hearing loss is very common, with about 40% of people over age 50 experiencing some hearing loss, and over 70% of those over age 70 having hearing loss. Thus, hearing loss is a normal part of the aging process. Reduced ability to hear can have numerous implications on one’s ability to interact with the world, since we use our ability to hear continuously as we interact in our day-to-day life. Diminished hearing can lead to social isolation due to difficulties in carrying out conversations with others and general communication challenges. Not surprisingly, social isolation is also a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia, which could contribute to even more decline in brain function. Although hearing loss presents risks, there are things you can do to reduce the impact of hearing loss on cognition.
What You Can Do to Minimize the Risks of Brain Decline from Hearing Loss
- Do not ignore symptoms of hearing loss: It’s important to address hearing deficits early on to detect any changes in hearing. There’s new evidence that subclinical hearing loss (hearing loss before it’s even considered hearing loss) is driving cognitive decline even earlier than we thought; so don’t hesitate to get your hearing checked if you have any concerns.1
- Hearing aids help: As you may well know, hearing aids are a very common and effective method to limit the effects of hearing loss. Studies are showing that those who use hearing aids and cochlear implants have reduced risk of cognitive decline compared to those who don’t.3
- Lifestyle Changes: Also, there are many additional factors that protect brain and cognitive health with excellent evidence to support them. These include diet and nutrition, exercise, getting adequate sleep, and social connections/relationships. You can learn more about all of these lifestyle factors here.4
- Diet and Nutrition: Nutrition is emerging as a particularly important factor that can strengthen brain health, since recent observational and clinical studies are showing that it can significantly affect dementia risk. The MIND diet, or Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, along with similar Mediterranean-style diets, has shown the ability to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s through numerous studies. The MIND diet consists of leafy green vegetables, berries, whole grains, nuts, poultry, and cold water fish; and it limits processed foods and meats and sugars. Recent studies on the MIND diet show greater than 50% reduction in risk of Alzheimer’s and slower cognitive aging, with individuals following the MIND diet having a brain equivalent to those 8 years younger.5,6 Learn more about these diets here.
- Consider a Supplement to Fill the Gaps: It’s not always easy to eat all the nutrients your brain needs on a daily basis, so taking a daily supplement may help fill the nutritional gaps. Zoltan Mari, M.D., a neurologist-researcher at Cleveland Clinic, relates to the practical challenges people have at adhering to a brain-healthy diet like the MIND diet, saying, “We’re realistic- it's not always easy. Nutritional products and supplements can play a positive role for those of us who aren’t perfect”. Learn about RELEVATE below, the nutritional supplement containing 17 well-researched nutrients to support long-term brain health.
Why it’s Important to Talk to an Audiologist
Audiologists are healthcare professionals who have multiple roles that include not only hearing, but also behavior and communication. Audiologists help identify and treat hearing, balance, tinnitus, and other auditory disorders. They assess options for hearing aids and cochlear implants and provide fitting, programming, and audiologic rehabilitation to ensure the best possible outcomes for persons with hearing loss. They are essential for making sure hearing technology and hearing aids are precisely tuned for each individual. This way, you can cognitively interact optimally with the world around you.
Audiologists are increasingly becoming the first line of defense against cognitive decline, with many audiology clinics actively providing cognitive assessments alongside hearing-related healthcare. So, audiologists are an important piece of your overall health and brain health! Combining hearing technology and factors like the MIND diet can be a very potent defense against cognitive decline.
There are things you can do today to best support your hearing and brain health and prevent the risk of Alzheimer’s or cognitive decline. Start with the suggestions above and consider the following resources.
RELEVATE is a nutrition supplement containing 17 well-researched nutrients to support long-term brain health. The dosages of RELEVATE’s ingredients are based on those consumed in brain-healthy diets like the Mediterranean and MIND diets. Thus, they fill in the gaps between the ideal intakes of nutrients for brain health and the nutrient-limited standard American diet (or “SAD”). RELEVATE is built on evidence from long-term studies of these brain-strengthening diets that significantly reduce the risk of age-related neurodegenerative disease.5 It was developed by a wonderful team of medical-scientific researchers from the Cleveland Clinic, Rush University, and Barrow Neurological Institute. Learn more about RELEVATE here.
We hope this inspires you to take action not only for your hearing, but also for your cognitive health and nutrition in general! If you’re interested in more evidence-based articles, brain health tips, recipes and more, sign up for our newsletter here.
- Golub JS, Brickman AM, Ciarleglio AJ, Schupf N, Luchsinger JA. Association of Subclinical Hearing Loss With Cognitive Performance. JAMA Otolaryngol Neck Surg. 2020;146(1):57-67. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2019.3375
- Slade K, Plack CJ, Nuttall HE. The Effects of Age-Related Hearing Loss on the Brain and Cognitive Function. Trends Neurosci. 2020;43(10):810-821. doi:10.1016/j.tins.2020.07.005
- Yeo BSY, Song HJJMD, Toh EMS, et al. Association of Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants With Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Neurol. 2023;80(2):134-141. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2022.4427
- Sabbagh MN, Perez A, Holland TM, et al. Primary prevention recommendations to reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s Dement. 2022;18(8):1569-1579. doi:10.1002/alz.12535
- Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, et al. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimer’s Dement. 2015;11(9):1015-1022. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2015.04.011
- Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s Dement. 2015;11(9):1007-1014. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009